no other heaven

Allison and me toasting on a hilltop in Mount Tamalpais State Park. Not sure what exactly Peter is doing. Photo courtesy of Emily Yurko.
Allison and me toasting on a hilltop in Mount Tamalpais State Park. Not sure what exactly Peter is doing. Photo courtesy of Emily Yurko.
Blades of grass tickled my fingertips as I walked with palms outstretched. Following a narrow trail snaking up more than 2,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, I used rocks embedded into the hillside for leverage and kept my head down to avoid tripping on one of the tiny holes some animal had burrowed into the path – long before my arrival, claiming this site for its home.

When I reached the top of the peak I saw a cluster of rocks shaped into a bench and a plaque now green with age. I set my backpack on the seat and read the marker while pulling out a box of Italian cookies from North Beach and a bottle of wine.

“Give me these hills and the friends I love, I ask no other heaven.”

The plaque was given in honor of Dad O’Rourke – a local hiker who led outings throughout Marin County in the early 1900s – on his 76th birthday in 1927. I smiled upon reading his words and took out my camera to snap one of only four photos I took that day.

“There’s a plaque up here you guys have to read,” I shouted to my friends still making their way up the trail.

Now I will admit it has taken me a long time to get to this point. And I don’t mean to Dad O’Rourke’s bench. That is just a short drive across the Golden Gate and a few miles of winding along Panoramic Highway. I mean to the point where I can call California home and not immediately feel the urge to qualify it with, “But I’m from Boston.” (That now occurs about 35 seconds later.) But that’s just geography. I also mean to the point where I have found folks I can call ‘my people.’ (Most just happen to be East Coast transplants.)

When I first moved to California I told my family I was only going to live on the West Coast for two to three years. Well, it’s been closer to five and I have no plans for punching my return ticket anytime soon.

Sidenote: In the past upon reading that last sentence my mother would have booked her next flight on JetBlue to convince me otherwise. Now she just books a flight and we go to wine country instead.

The truth is, the first three years I spent in tiny newsrooms chasing stories and scraping by on a wage deemed “below poverty” by our county standards. The friends I made were all fellow news reporters and wound up moving across the state for other jobs –some for bigger papers, some leaving the profession altogether, and most I have lost touch with.

The areas I covered were located in suburban or unincorporated pockets of farmland– not exactly places teeming with young single people looking to make new friends. I was fortunate to get dumped over Christmas by my live in boyfriend – an event that forced me to move to San Francisco and start over 18 months ago. And given time, distance and an additional 2,000 feet – I am so thankful for that.

When our group reconvened under the trees I poured the wine into plastic cups and we toasted to a good day where Allison took nearly 500 photos (I’m not being hyperbolic), Emily and I binged on chips and salsa, Peter ate everything else, Sam climbed rocks and Chris – well, Chris fell. And then we went home.

Editor’s note: Watching the sunset over Mount Tamalpais marked the first of a series of weekend outings we are organizing to take advantage of the perks of living in the Bay Area. Namely – proximity to wineries, trails and the beach. To view a lovely photo narrative of our trip compiled by Allison visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/allisonmccarthy/sets/72157620162020926/

new leaf

I finally succumbed to feelings of extreme guilt about my morning routine. Every day I take a bus to the Caltrain station, exiting one stop early to run into my favorite coffee shop. There I purchase a coffee, yogurt, sugar raised donut and banana. And every day I feel bad about.

Every time I reach for the tall stack of cardboard I think about how wasteful I am being with my paper cup purchase. While there is something rather wonderful about sipping coffee out of a cardboard container, (kind of like milk out of the carton – it just tastes better), it doesn’t cancel out the fact that I am being a poor steward of the environment. I think about it every time I bring the cup to my lips. Yet, it has taken me nearly six months to reach into my purse and throw down the $10 for a reusable mug. Until yesterday.

And it wasn’t because it was Earth Day. In truth, I didn’t even know it was until I read a Tweet about it in the afternoon. I just got to the point where I felt bad enough to invest the money and stick a note to the back of my phone reminding me to pick one up on the walk home.

Now, I admit, if I was really green I would have done some research about where the mug came from and the distance it traveled to sit on the shelf at Crate and Barrel. I would have investigated how it was made to determine whether the carbon footprint was greater or less than my disposable cups. I didn’t. I won’t pretend to be some raging environmentalist who chains herself to trees. I just walked into the nearest store that sold reusable mugs and purchased the pretty one.

The point is, today, at the coffee shop I pulled the silver mug out of my purse and filled up for the first time without guilt. My coffee tasted exactly the same – maybe even better without the backwash of remorse and splash of coffee on my chin. The best part is I learned I save five cents with every purchase. After doing the math – (on a piece of paper, see, again, not green) – I learned that I save $13 a year just by bringing my own container. Sure, this means I have to wash it every time, but it also means I have to stop and think about my actions and the impact they have on a daily basis. And that’s worth every penny.

Inauguration Day

There are days that seem to blend into eachother. Days when nothing worth noting happened and you can’t really recall where you went or what you did. Today was not one of those days.

Today was a day that people wore T-shirts and buttons touting the name of the man who promised America change. It was election day all over again. Today people gathered around TV screens and computer monitors in bars and office cubicles nationwide to witness the historic changing of the guard.

Like many people, I had a person in DC today watching the events unfold firsthand. My dad. But he was not there to celebrate. He was not there for the Jumbotron or the parades or even the speeches. He was there to serve.

You see my dad is a volunteer with an emergency medical response team. He has been deployed to hurricane zones and other national emergencies to care for the sick and injured. His team was deployed to DC just in case. They set up a makeshift hospital and were prepared for anything and hoping for nothing.

I spoke with him at sunset east coast time. They were taking down the tents and he could still see the lights from the parade winding down the streets. From his station he could hear the two million people singing and cheering in the distance. And oh, what joy.

My day was much smaller. I stood crammed into a tiny office with six other colleagues and watched the inauguration in streaming video, a process that took twice as long due to the Internet traffic. And like many of the best conversations I have had lately, the most interesting of the day occurred on public transportation between a bus driver and a Vietnam War veteran. Both men were black, both were in their sixties.

VET: It was just beautiful – the sea of all the people.

BUS DRIVER: His whole speech was about unity. He didn’t separate one from the other. He knows that is what it’s going to take. He knows without that it’s going to be difficult. It’s a hard task anyway. But the economy, it will take awhile, but it will be fixed. What he said about working with other countries … let’s come together. Let’s come together and work it out.

VET: [upon exiting the bus] Yes we can. Yes we can. God bless you.

My sentiments exactly.