Sympathetic Vibrations

The effort to know a place deeply is, ultimately, an expression of the human desire to belong, to fit somewhere. —Barry Lopez, The Invitation

The wind started in the early morning hours. Cold air from the north mixed with heat from the inland valleys and points south. As a result, the air was aswirl. It blew through our bedroom window before dawn. I woke up to the scratch and rustle of leaves on the plane tree. A ribbon of cool air brushed over my cheek.

I took my coffee into our back yard and sat, listening to the wind. At first it sounded soft, well in the background. I sipped and settled, and in time I realized the sound of the wind was a symphonic hush that rose and fell in volume and intensity, made of a thousand, thousand leaves rustling, and also blades of grass, and the friction of molecules scraping past houses and telephone poles and cars and fences. It was in fact louder than the city’s ambient sound. From the city I heard freeway traffic, airplanes, train whistles, truck horns, sirens, the screech of rapid transit, the rap and pound of contraction sites; a constant thrum, the white noise of urban life. Above all this, and so much bigger, the wind rushed through. 

I’m a city dweller, happily situated in urban life with friends and neighbors, favorite bookstores and coffee shops, memory-laden streets and hidden pathways. At the same time, I vacillate between longing for connection and resistance to the same, the old ambivalence; now surfing into, now protecting myself against the way my body and mind are in an ever-excited state, as if revving in sync with the 7.52 million other lives at work around the bay. My nerves vibrate like the sympathetic strings of a viola d’amore

Almost always, I’m not just here, but here and sensing “here” from some third space. Some third position from which to feel my life. In this way I am both within and apart. I sipped my coffee, rich and strong. A sudden gust came in from the west. Having sailed down the canyons of San Francisco streets, past whales and ships in the bay, osprey in nesting boxes and peregrines under the bridge, over the filled-in former wetlands of the East Bay, the foraging egrets and Ridgeway rails, past the Chevon refinery, the dog parks and eucalyptus groves, it then ruffled our neighborhood, and like a great wave, engulfed our house. I watched it bend the mulberry tree and felt it smack into my forehead. In that moment I breathed in every thing and everyone with whom I share our westernmost city, perched as we are on the blunted edge of the continent.