Aaron Shurin

            As an inveterate city dweller who nevertheless craves immediacy in nature, I spend a lot of time in parks. San Francisco is gifted with blooming coastal cliffs; bayside marshes; rugged, glittery beaches. It has the famous long expanses, pools, and glades of Golden Gate Park, with century-old cedars, redwoods, tree-ferns, Monterey pines; but also the small, gnarly hill called Buena Vista, whose hereditary mandate to the city is “keep it wild,” and on whose pitched hillsides all the local aged trees grow together in profusion, alongside pungent, yellow-bud acacias; splatted clusters of orange poppies; hale, spiky leptospermum in various mauve; and pink or white flowering plums with their bite-size scarlet balls. Squirrels abound in chirpy abandon near green-glinting hummingbirds; crude, black, blatting ravens; vigilant, sky-high hawks; and they scamper blithely past the legs of ever-wandering, libidinous men aroused, too, by the wild, unruly spark that brings this park to continual fruition square yard by square yard.
            Today, as is so often the case, February has cracked itself open to reveal a balmy spring morning: warm sun, a few threads of high mist, new long grass as green as it’ll ever get, permeated all by the gratefulness such a suspended day in early February brings, with its hungry respite and promise of similar openings soon to come in multiple.
            Sensations mark a few coordinates, but you have to stop and fill in the blanks to find “the manifold meaning of every sensuous fact” (Emerson). My dizzied head, brimming with the runoff from occupationist wars, poisonous governance, personal economic fragility, is coming to level in a graced spot of temporary sunny cohesion. Whatever you have distinguishing terms for gets activated by focus, and the matrix of “meaning” flowers, then, inside of “fact,” a sustaining implosion. Each concentrated pause opens the charged, interrelating heart of matter. “That’s a fuchsia pendula,” said Jocelyn, inspecting with a gardener’s Latinate skill the backyard greenery we were visiting, and so possessing the plant complexly where I lagged behind in barely-cognizant fuzziness: just a momentary bush I was brushing.
            I reached a point, a while ago, to which age, in part, had delivered me, where I was full of names and their narration — specific event, color, and line — and my senses were eager for fusion. Meaning’s halo hovered as lure over each impression newly engaged or fervently re-staged. I discovered an urge to braid in place and remember….

            This morning I’ve moved myself — classic day off — from the park to a convivial outdoor café — another act of public surrender, embraced by the clement city and its awakening streams of air. San Francisco, the anti-imperial, is a festival of neighborhoods, and holds you calmly in its cups, hill to valley. Along the café’s wooden bench I eavesdrop on Spanish being spoken to my right, secretly stroke one man’s prominent neck, gaze at the widening sky. Like others I get flattened by work, riled by the warrior lords, taken apart by desire, but the city’s multiple sympathies manage to stand for coherence: It has zones of permission and pockets of fair value that activate sensibility, and a gentle, gathered demeanor which sweetly resembles domestic life. In its crisp but languorous atmosphere (so confusing to New Yorkers who invariably announce, perplexed, “Doesn’t anybody work?”) you move and breathe a little more slowly — even I who walk leaning into the wind when no wind is driving. As a civic frame it fosters specificity, cool proportion, and the temper to look and listen. It proposes for your delectation the Immediate Local: small particulars brought to dimension by lucid, northern light — cherished, here, as amplitude…             as immensity.