Photo by Aife Murray

I live near the banks of Mission Creek, which I never thought about until Loma Prieta jumbled 18th Street and the Women’s Building set up a pump on the sidewalk because of the creek water pooling in their basement. If you are familiar with this part of town, you know it’s populated and popular. Last spring, on our crowded Mission streets, masking was only a concept.

For a veteran hiker and long-distance walker like me, my sudden age-and-disease vulnerability, combined with the unmasked populace, created a boondoggle. Walking the long hall of my flat, listening to YouTube comedians, only worked so long.

Trial and error led to the 5 a.m. daily walk.

Starting out in the dark gives me San Francisco at rest and, while most are still dreaming or stumbling for the kitchen light, sidewalks are empty, the streets see barely a car. While I came for the near absence of people, I stay for the phases of the moon, the calm quiet, the coyotes of Guerrero Street, the revolving menu of fragrant smells from the bakery on Chenery Street, the chill rising off Islais Creek making me zip-up when heading for Glen Canyon, where the fragrant plants remind me that San Francisco bees do make the finest honey.

By the time I’ve risen the rim edge of the canyon to Diamond Heights, I’ve taken in the San Bruno Mountain range, and it’s often still dark enough to enjoy a ring sparkling the bay and hints of light above Mount Diablo.

I can recognize the age of skunks now, for the old waddle low to the ground, as if their hips ache. Before I drop down Clipper, there’s enough light for birds to burst into song and a few runners to emerge. And I stay with this circuit for the seep coming down Twin Peaks and under Market Street fostering a wild verdant garden on Grand View.

I put my hood up when I get to Eureka, for it runs a narrow valley and I feel the temperature drop wherever there’s runoff below the street. The last stretch, the roller coaster that is 21st Street, drops me on the precipitous flank of the hill into Eureka Valley and the Mission. I’ve become attuned to the topography of San Francisco, imagine these hills and shoulders green, streams and runoffs when, long ago, streets and staircases were laid out and formed.

Today, I get the second vaccine. I consider my impending freedom and what I might gain, but my mind lands on this 6.5-mile, two-hour neighborhood circuit that has nurtured me for most of the year, and the simple act of taking in the city beneath my feet.

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  1. Thanks for taking us in your socially distanced journey for these past months. And congrats on your second shot. In two weeks you can come to the country and walk beside Arroyo Mocho.

  2. What beautiful, lyrical writing. I love the skunks and their aging hips. So evocative.

  3. Wonderful descriptions Aife ~ a special kind of Covid journey. Thank you for writing this.

  4. Really appreciated the story and felt like I was right along side. You have a mastery of dialogue!

  5. A stunning description of the City and of your treks during the pandemic. I could see it all as you described it.
    Thank you!

  6. It’s vivid. Beautiful. I’m there feeling the earth with each step, thoroughly enjoying the sights, listening attentively, and would definitely enjoy a delicious baked snack!

  7. Very nice piece. My dad started a 2 hour early morning walk routine a year ago as well, and I bet you two have crossed paths at least once, as it sounds like your route is somewhat similar. Glad to see Islais Creek get a lil shout-out as well; I researched it for an ecology project back in high school and spent a lot of time tracking it throughout Glen canyon. It is one of only 2 extant creeks in the city, the other being Lobos Creek in the presidio.

  8. What a lovely tour! You have a wonderful eye for detail, e.g, how skunk walks vary by age, and provide great descriptions. Thanks!

  9. Thank you for your beautiful honor to the ecology of energy and beings in this landscape. We are grateful to the Ramaytush Ohlone for their millennia of stewardship under your feet.