Mt. Davidson Day

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View of Marin Headlands From Our Mountainside

Should be a very noisy day around here. Our block is having road work done all week, a basic resurfacing job, during which a couple of inches of asphalt is scooped up, replaced by new material, then flattened and smoothed to look quite stunning. Which is a good thing, I suppose, though the project involves a number of inconveniences: the processes and machinery used are high in decibels and low in pleasing aromas; our elderly and beloved automobile, Miss Jade, who has been spending much of her retirement safely on the street in front of the house the way humans might claim an easy chair and backgammon board, must be put into the garage during the day; our three little Tibetan terriers become highly agitated with all the disruption, and the youngest must be taken on long walks to remove him from the source of anxiety. As in the case of the two-year deafening refurbishment of the reservoir a few hundred yards below the house, an experience I thought would never end, it will be so wonderful to have this project completed.

In general our street is a quiet and happy one. Most of our neighbors seem to love it here, which conduces to good spirits and smiles all around. The back of our house looks out, on clear days, to vast vistas of Pacific Ocean, Marin County headlands, San Francisco Bay inside and outside the Golden Gate, Oakland and the cities to the east, and a whole assortment of San Francisco neighborhoods. And the windows at the front gaze up like two wondering eyes at the golden grasses, wild shrubs, rocks, hiking trails and enormous swaying wind-driven eucalyptus of Mt. Davidson, highest geographical point in the city. It’s a pretty good place to be.

We have, and have had, some really fine neighbors, but those who have moved on for one reason or other have left some gaps in my consciousness which I have trouble reconciling with the present. Frederick, for example, at the end of the block, helped us mightily in the construction of the terraces and steps of our hillside garden by lending the use of his truck and his good company in the acquisition of all kinds of heavy building materials, but he died several years ago in his late eighties. Helen, our elderly next-door neighbor who had been an assistant to drug-guru Timothy Leary in her prime, unexpectedly found romance very late in life, marrying a psychiatrist much older than herself and promptly retiring with him to a nursing home across the bay. Siegie, our German neighbor across the street, who had grown up near Leipzig, survived Nazis and Communists, World War II and fifty years of solitary exile in the United States, moved back to her homeland after crashing her car into the side of her garage one afternoon. There was a youngish couple, medical nurses both, who suddenly announced they were moving to London: the husband had endeared himself to me from the beginning by never starting his motorcycle’s engine in the morning until he had coasted two blocks away and down the hill. And the list goes on and on, so I really should write about them all on some other occasion. Meanwhile, the neighbors who remain are fine indeed, a third cup of early morning tea beckons, a load of laundry is done downstairs and ready for the dryer, doggies are blissfully asleep, and a bit of sunlight seems to be breaking up the fog. There’s a lot to do before sunset, as always, but it looks to be a very good if also noisy day ahead.

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2 comments on “Mt. Davidson Day

  1. You have an amazing view – I envy this in a big city. (In my last London flat, I did have a great view of the city.)

    My parents are going through similar experiences back home in the house where I grew up. Loud construction work at the moment, and we/they have also gradually seen elderly neighbours die over the years (one of them was 100 or over, I think.) They’re finding that some of the new neighbours are great and some are not so nice and in either case they tend to come and go a lot more. It’s a bit strange for them to be among the older, long-term-established residents after moving in in the 1970s with a young family. I guess that is a long time ago now! I find it hard in some respects going back to my hometown because there’s always someone I’ve known forever who has died. I’m thinking of writing a poem about that – I feel like I need to do something about it.

  2. leifhendrik says:

    You should write that poem! It really is strange, living in or revisiting a place filled with memories of those who have passed on. One of our neighbors has lived in her house since she received it from her mother as a wedding gift in 1942. Another, who died several years ago, had purchased her house new in 1927, which sounds like it couldn’t be true but it is. It all reminds me of a passage from an essay by the American writer Joan Didion in which she speaks of going back to a place she knew and loved as a child, and which she sees through memory rather than experiencing what’s actually there now: ‘Revisiting Hollister today is like passing through a hologram which dissolves even as you drive through it.’ This quote is not exact, but close to it: I’m working from memory alone. As for hometowns, like you, I find it difficult in some ways to go back.

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