My neighborhood is called “the Sunset,” a beautiful lie conjured up to draw residents to a vacant, fogged-over flatland west of San Francisco’s vibrant downtown. Closer to the sparkling, rocky shore, the push and pull of the Pacific. Engulfed by a cold draft of undecided wind. Alternating hours of cool, falling mist and sneaking fog that sits, catlike, on our morning sidewalks. (I later learned it’s California’s blazing sun that draws that chill inland, up the coastal cliff. No wonder our mythical seasons appear too late, with cold wind whipping through summer, violets peeking just as the year turns and a feeling, floating through our fog-swept city, that time stands still.)
The sunset began as a cold, forsaken seaside — but humans make the most of things. They chopped through that rambling stretch of wilderness and built a fantasy. Rows and rows of pastel-painted houses stand with a cold eye to the sea. Bars keep their lights on late into the forested night. Trees are felled for giant limestone museums. Schools end at 3 P.M. and the children run out onto a sidewalk of cheese shops and gas stations while traffic cops watch out for cars. People shop and eat and talk while watches tick, smart phones buzz. The sky is streaked with white sunshine. The wild sea retreats behind transit tracks that run over the hills.
I sat at a coffee shop today in the sunshine of March. The Sunset is busy, bustling, and I’m caught up in it, wholly. I can see my life is easy and exciting and poetry is endless within us.
But then I hear a long screech and look skyward — two swooping Ospreys with talons peeled. The shadow of giant Cypress leaning over an apartment building. The dark smell of mildewed air and ocean that never disappears, only seeps itself into the wood of houses and gets forgotten. I look up and see nature, reminding me that we live on borrowed time.
The Sunset has a beautiful name, but an old, reckless soul. We were tricked into coming here, building, settling in. But I think what I love most about this place is that quiet understanding: you don’t belong here, you never will.