My friend Lisa's pet name for our neighborhood is The Inner Farallones. Those of you familiar with San Francisco will understand her joke: we live west of Twin Peaks, outside the shelter of the Golden Gate, with a breathtaking view of...the fog.
About half the time, anyway. The other half we gaze upon the Pacific in all its majesty. Our view stretches southward to the cliffs at Fort Funston, and northward to Drake's Beach on Point Reyes. Floating above to the east are the Marin Headlands and the summit of Mount Tamalpais.
And, maybe one day in five, our view is precisely bisected by a large pile of rock known as the Farallon Islands. Located 28 miles west of the Golden Gate, the Farallones are a marine sanctuary, home to hundreds of species of endangered air and sea creatures. Viewed from the mainland, they are at once remote and imposing in the their presence.
We'd lived in our house only a few days when I first saw them from our deck. It was a hazy day, and I had to squint to see them. I felt my spirits soar. I knew at once that they were to be my companions for as long as we live here.
I got into the habit of looking for the Farallones every morning when I woke up. My first task was to find a reliable reference point. Standing at a known spot on the deck, the islands appear immediately to the right of the green diagonal roof of the house behind us. When they appear at all, that is.
I've come to realize that my daily search for the islands has become a metaphor for my daily experience. On those rare brilliant days when they show themselves so clearly, I feel that my aims are clear and true. Sometimes it's cloudy on the mainland, but out over the ocean a shaft of golden light shines on them. On foggy days I can only imagine the islands out there, waiting patiently for better weather.
Notwithstanding the fog and clouds, we are sometimes treated to magnificent sunsets. I can calibrate the passing seasons by observing where along the horizon the sun sets. In winter, it is over Fort Funtston, and I need to climb out on my back roof even to see it. At Midsummer, the sun sets over open ocean, in a perfect line from our deck. It's often glorious, but alas, the solstice marks the beginning of the fog season.
In between these temporal poles lie the equinoxes. As I write, the Farallones are just visible, shimmering behind the clouds that have enveloped the city most of the day. The sun is breaking through the gray just above the horizon, a few clicks to the north of the islands. Breaking through at the end of the day, falling into the ocean, at the geographic center of my inner life. Spring has come.