We’re nearing the end of the period of our best sunrises here on Mt. Davidson. Within another two or three weeks, the three months of summer fog will probably have set in, and there will be no sunrise to see. At this time of year, however, the skies are not only very often clear at daybreak, but the sun is far enough north that it’s visible from the back deck of the house, rising somewhere in the vicinity of Mt. Diablo. That’s what you see in the photo above, which was taken on April 30. The Oakland and Berkeley hills lie at the far left of the scene, Alameda to the far right, hidden in shadow, and an assortment of empty cargo ships resting serenely on the surface of San Francisco Bay. The visuals, along with the intense early morning chorus of birdsong which accompany them, are something I look forward to all year long. Our autumn weather is if anything even better, a tremendous relief after living in an impenetrable bank of summer fog, but there’s something about the spring sunrises which makes them special. Perhaps it’s because they follow the dark damp months of winter.
Lately I’ve been reflecting a lot on the demographic changes our block has undergone during the thirteen years we’ve lived here. I added the numbers up the other day, and came up with this: for one reason or other, at least twenty-three people who were living here when we arrived in April 2001 are no longer with us. Nine of them have died, and the others have either ended up in nursing homes or simply moved away. Two weeks ago, for example, we lost Lucia, a 92 year old woman who had grown up in Vienna and watched from the windows of the Vienna City Hall as Hitler rode in triumph through the streets on the day of the Anschluss in 1938. She married an American diplomat and lived in North Africa, among other foreign posts, before setting down to life on our quiet street and staying here for 64 years. There are all kinds of stories, and I think of these people, now gone, whenever I pass their homes. Robert, in his mid-eighties, had a stroke and is now living out his final days in a nursing home. But nine years ago he was disinherited by his partner of more than forty years when the latter died, leaving his share of the two houses they owned together to the San Francisco Opera. Helena, who as a young woman had worked as an assistant to Timothy Leary, married a retired psychiatrist and went with him into a care facility. Sieglinda, a very elderly German woman who remembered digging potatoes in East Prussia as an involuntary cog in the wheel of the Nazi war effort, returned to Germany to finish out her life after crashing her car one day into the side of her garage. One house was the scene of the deaths of two of its owners, in rapid succession, in the course of about a year and a half. And there are many other stories, most of them about good neighbors who simply moved away in the course of following the fortunes and opportunities of life. I miss them all, and I’m sure one of the many joys of being able to travel back in time to the year of our arrival in 2001 would be to see each of them in turn, exchange a cheery good-morning, and be happy to know that all are safe at home where they belong. We’ve had some very good neighbors over the years.
But back to those sunrises! The photo above shows what it looks like when there are low clouds banked just above the mountains or hovering peacefully over the bay. It’s all quite tranquil, and I try to take a few moments to enjoy the scene and remember it to get me through the foggy months of summer which surely lie ahead. Meanwhile, I’m normally quite busy at that hour coping with three young dogs just waking up, excited to begin their day, anxious to visit the backyard, then either go back to sleep or else convince me to hurry through my email so we can have a speedier breakfast and get on with things. But if I could do it, I’d prolong the sunrise hour indefinitely. By far it’s the most wonderful part of my day, and I’m always perturbed with myself if I’m so lazy as to sleep too late and miss the beauty of it completely.