Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hardly Strictly Golden Gate Park

On all of my trips home to San Francisco I spend time in Golden Gate Park, but October is a particularly nice month to do so due to the following two phenomena: clear, cool and sunny afternoons, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. This year the latter--a free three day music festival featuring some of the best international bluegrass, country, gospel, and folk (among others) musicians--boasted The Chieftains on Sunday afternoon, and if there's an Irish traditional music group close to my heart, it's this foursome from Dublin. My sister and I spent years studying and performing Irish step-dancing in San Francisco, and as a result, the mellifluous sound of Paddy Maloney's uilleann pipes are as familiar to us as dancing the Hornpipe hard jig.

CG and I walked over to the festival on that brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon, and as we passed through groves of eucalyptus trees and by the burnished tower of the De Young, I considered how viscerally important Golden Gate Park is to me. As in, I would feel wounded if it were to change drastically, much less vanish.
A 1970s Cyclocross Race in Golden Gate Park
I continued to think about the Park's significance in my life, and its emotional importance to me, the following morning, as I went for an eight mile run roughly around its perimeter. There is, for example, the Park's familial significance; my paternal great-grandfather, maternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, and mother all explored and played in the Park as children, and my grandmother's memories of walking the Stow Lake path with her father physically resemble the same walks I completed with my own. My maternal great-grandmother's ashes are scattered among the Park's gardens. Both of my siblings rode horses on the trails in the western half of the Park, and my brother, sister, and I each learned how to ride a bike near the Academy of Sciences. Our dog took her last steps by the Fulton playground.

But there is also the Park's developmental significance, as in my personal development. Golden Gate Park is where I played Viking League soccer games as a child, ran cross-country races in high school, and practiced cyclocross as a young adult. I've had birthday parties, elementary school picnics, high school baseball games, and even running dates in its green and golden environs. I saw my first concert at the Polo Fields, as well as my first actual polo match (with horses), and even my first Dutch windmill (Queen Wilhelmina's). Each time I run or walk through Golden Gate Park, I have the wonderful sense of both homecoming and possibility.

By running west on the trails past the Chain of Lakes and Beach Chalet, I emerged out of the Park and onto Ocean Beach. I've always loved that feeling, of running west through the Park to the Pacific, as it allows me to feel--quite literally--that I'm running to the continent's edge. I stood on the sand and watched the surfers, their heads hooded in Neoprene against the cold Autumn water. I smiled, then I turned around and ran home through Golden Gate Park.

1 comment: