Sometimes it’s as simple as turning off the radio and letting your thoughts come forward while you’re rolling along at 10mph in four lanes of rush hour traffic. Even if you find yourself with this luxury, it can be hard to fully take in if you’re distracted by now being late to work, anxious to get home, or one of the million other things we worry about.
Unfortunately, I have to admit I find myself worrying a lot lately and it actually takes a great deal of effort to schedule time to spend on myself. I’m not talking about giving myself a spa day; it’s far more laborious than that. I’m talking about setting aside time to hear myself, to throw my list of countless distractions aside and let my real self settle in again. Though extremely liberating by the end, it’s painful and gets more painful the longer you avoid giving yourself that time.
Today, I woke up feeling bogged down by all the major life changes I’d like to make and when afternoon came around, the sun began beating hot and stagnant air into my room and I realized I needed to get out. If I was going to sweat I might as well make some actual physical laps instead of thinking myself in delirious circles on the couch.
I decided to spend the afternoon at the Albany Bulb, more plainly known as the Albany Waterfront Trail, north of the Berkeley Marina. Originally used as a construction landfill in the 60s, the Albany Bulb was left to retreat back into nature in 1983 when the dumping was ordered to cease. Since then, the area has been hotly contested as it became an overgrown jungle of concrete and rebar, a prime playground for street artists to develop their work as well as a perfect place for new civilization to emerge in the form of a well-organized vagrant encampment.
This year, the city of Albany with hopes of turning the land into profit, successfully evicted the community of Bulb residents. All that stands in the place of their homes is a giant dumpster and the looming sticky-sweet smell of gentrification.
Well manicured, sterile parks are not hard to come by but a land left to the wild and covered in blank canvas is priceless. When I first moved to the Bay Area, this small peninsula jutting into the Bay, quickly became one of my favorite places for inspiration. When you first arrive, it is quite clear that it has been just that for numerous people. Along the entrance, giant concrete slabs are covered in paint and words, strewn like pages loosened from a book of would-be fortune cookies, written by the seeking and disenfranchised:
“Happiness is resistance”
“Humility + Courage = Serenity”
“Condemning my imperfections has never enhanced my appreciation of life or helped me to love myself more – from Courage to Change, Al Anon”
“Today I chose happiness and accept insanity”
“Then > Your fist is only as big as…?”
“If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”
“It’s more than okay to be a wingnut”
“The Oft Confusing Road to Healing”
“One day at a time, One minute at a time”
“Dear Sondai: This is the Year!”
I’m forced to move slowly along the path. The pile of rubble sinking into the dry brush at the edge of the water creates so many surfaces that if you look only in front of you, you miss another set of viewpoints, another collection of affirmations.
In the sun, longing and hope steam off these rocks. I put a star in my notebook next to:“Today I’ll pretend to know what I’m doing.”
Across the water is the silhouette of the old Bay Bridge, with a solid blue hole of sky piercing through where it’s been dismantled. The sleek new Bay Bridge is nearly invisible in front of it. A gulp of cormorants floats along, occasionally taking turns diving for fish.
As I walk, I soak in whatever scraps of art peer out over the water, knowing with each step I get closer to where the small stone castle usually sits, a sentinel sealed with decades of paint on the edge overlooking San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m apprehensive and half expecting that it’s been demolished as all this debris will be cleared out someday to make way for shops and restaurants and expensive waterfront condos.
Luckily it doesn’t appear any of the art has been disturbed yet and as I rounded the corner, there the castle was as usual.
Before heading back, I walked to the other side of the peninsula to see if it was really true, if in fact, the camps were gone. I came upon the site of the first camp I remember, a collection of tarps woven between trees with a nice set up of water and a camp stove. He even had sort of a side yard with a fence made out of shopping carts, bike parts, cans and all other things made of metal.
Someone had put a labyrinth in on the yard some time ago, but since I last visited. Now there are at least two there that I know of, another sits just over the hill slightly to the west closer to the main camps.
It seems suitable that they are here. The Bulb is a perfect place to meditate, to think, to create. Now that it is vacant of its residences though, it’s less alive and it feels almost as though contemplation comes as a quiet whisper, like it would when you stroll through a cemetery. The dry brush snaps and cracks presumably from the movement of insects, and possibly the lack of rain. But otherwise there are few sounds besides the distant traffic.
At some point in our lives of constant seeking and longing, I presume we find a balance. There is always a level of uncertainty; certain aspects of our lives will always be uncontrollable. These small moments to clear our minds of the billions of distractions from man-made life bring us closer to that balance, to gaining enough contentment to let the natural uncertainties stand as they are without effecting our happiness.