Saturday, August 19, 2017

City and sea: a couple of weekdays away in the Bay Area

I took a couple days off work this past week, and along with paying less attention (okay, not exactly zero) to incoming office e-mail, I stepped away -- okay, really, I backed up a little bit -- from the relentless news, analysis, prediction, and preparation related to the white supremacist and right-wing militias coming to my hometown next weekend.

The Sea

On Thursday I headed for the coast, to my favorite spots at Point Reyes National Seashore. I stopped for coffee in Fairfax, and to pick up a sandwich at the deli in Lagunitas, then ate lunch on McClure's Beach under the watchful eye of a disappointed seagull, who had to satisfy himself with a seagull's usual diet of limpets and mussels and crab.

As I ate, the tide hit its low-point for the day ... not remarkably low, but still:

 After a while I climbed back up to the parking lot, and from there to the Tomales Point Trail. The creek was going strong in the ravine alongside the trail, even in this dry mid-August, draining land soaked by hard rains through the past winter and spring:

The trail was lined with Oregon gumplant, a yellow flower in the daisy family (Grindelia stricta) that exudes a sticky white gluelike substance at the early stage of blooming. I've never seen such copious quantities of gum on the forming buds before, though I've been out to McClures Beach at this time of year more than a few times. Maybe it was, again, an effect of our very rainy winter and spring following years of drought.

Spikey thistles on the opposite side of the color wheel also grew like gangbusters beside the trail.

I wasn't quick enough to get a photo of a majestic red-tailed hawk flying over the old Pearce Point Ranch buildings down to the parking lot at McClures Beach, but a short way down the Tomales Point Trail a vulture riding the wind passed close and slow enough to catch on camera.

Right behind me at about this point: a birds-eye view of McClures Beach from the ridge.

I only hiked out as far as Windy Gap, about a mile down the trail. From the gap, there's a clear view into White Gulch and Tomales Bay beyond it. In the gulch there's a spring that often attracts herds of tule elk that live out on the point and throughout the park. Right around this time of year is the start of rutting season, so I knew there was a good chance of catching the bulls bugling at each other as they begin to form harems. I was in luck. A bull and about twenty females were gathered around the spring, and another bull stood looking down on the herd from high above. Even with the wind blowing in from the ocean, I could hear the bugling as I watched through binoculars.

The City

On Friday Matthew and I hopped on BART and spent the morning at Caffe Trieste in North Beach before heading over to SFMOMA to see the Munch exhibition, Between the Clock and the Bed, for a second time. There was just enough time for lunch in the 5th floor cafe before our timed slot to enter the Munch galleries on the floor below.

Munch was not a happy painter ... to put it mildly. But, sad and jarring as his subjects may be, the paintings are beautifully and emotionally evocative. And Sick Mood at Sunset: Despair, the second painting below, evoked the prior day's far-less despairing view over the Pacific (pictured above).

But then we came to the real surprises of the afternoon. The first time we'd come to see the Munch show, in early July with some of my oldest friends, the museum was still installing a show on the seventh floor, Soundtracks, was still being installed (it opened on 15 July, and runs through the end of the year). I was pretty skeptical ... and, indeed, there are a lot of pieces in the exhibition that are way too cerebral or clever or mechanical to interest me much. But there were also pieces that took my breath away.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's white porcelain bowls floating and tenderly colliding in a turquoise pool of gently circulating water, clinamen v.3, may be the most reverently peaceful installation I've ever seen in an art museum.

The video I took doesn't do it justice, but I'll include it nonetheless.

Then there was The Visitors (2012), a 64 minute video and audio installation on nine screens and many speakers, by Ragnar Kjartansson. Blew me away. Eight Icelandic musicians play and sing together from separate rooms of an old, sprawling upstate New York mansion (they are connected via earphones): spare orchestration, haunting harmonies, and mantra-like lyrics from a poem Feminine Ways by the artist's former partner, Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir. I didn't stay through the whole 64 minutes (Matthew didn't go into the sort of rapture I did -- perhaps in part because he had visited the piece before, when it was installed in 2015-16 at The Broad in Los Angeles), but I'll be returning to experience the piece from beginning to end at least once while it is on view at SFMOMA. Interestingly, I misheard some of the words in the plain, repeated lyrics -- words that evoke a lifetime's psychologically bottomless trajectory juxtaposed with the unreachable vastness of the physical universe. Finding the words of Gunnarsdóttir's poem from which the lyrics are drawn (thanks Google) only deepened my commitment to returning to experience The Visitors again. Here's a brief segment of the piece, in which the musicians are vocalizing the monastic melody:

The Visitors was still playing in my head this morning ... but SFMOMA had one more breathtaking gift for us before we headed home: a lush, newly-exhibited Anselm Kiefer piece at the entrance to the sixth floor galleries: Maria durch den Dornwald ging (When Mary Went through the Thorn Forest):

I'll be going back to SFMOMA to look at that again too...

A week from today the nation's political hurricane is expected to make landfall at Crissy Field, not far from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. The next day: Berkeley, where I live and work and write. I hope the turmoil to which it aspires will be as overmatched by nonviolent local response as it was today in Boston.

In any case, I was grateful to gain some distance and perspective, in the city and beside the sea. I hope and trust it will inform a grounded passion I can bring to events next weekend.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Meet the Fishers
Point Reyes National Seashore at the start of the year
Never mind Election Day 2014, consider Fall in Northern California
A day at Bodega Head
From the Sierras to the sea: Escape from Election 2016

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