The real streets of San Francisco are those devoid of tourists or commuters slogging through the city. They have names not widely known. Ord, Saturn, Douglass and Levant.
These are the streets laid down after the California Gold Rush of 1848-1855. Now lined by multi-million dollar homes, before the mid-1800s even downtown streets became so muddy that horses couldn’t be ridden from one end of the city to the other, much less up a hill. Often these hills were covered with the ramshackle homes of low-income workers. But after the particularly difficult winter of 1849-1850, a concerted effort began to grade streets and build planking, and many of the homes lining these narrow ribbons of asphalt were built in the 1890s.
Irish engineer Jasper O’Farrell was the stepfather of San Francisco’s street layout. He was given the task of implementing the grid designed by Swiss surveyor Jean-Jacques Vioget, who had proposed a simple north-south and east-west design. O’Farrell suggested terracing the hillside to allow for curved roads, but property owners demanded that existing property lines remain intact.
Some hills were so steep that building a road was unfeasible; hence stairways. It’s estimated that 300 stairways pepper the city, connecting streets and offering shortcuts. There are the better known stairways – the Filbert and Greenwich Street staircases leading to Coit Tower, the Lyon Street stairs stretching from Pacific Heights to the Palace of Fine Arts or the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps.
We were looking for Saturn Street Steps, a stairway normally used by locals and off the beaten track. Tucked next to a four-story hillside home is a small sign welcoming one to the stairway, with admonishments that decades before would have been common courtesy.
It was still chilly. Sunlight, only now beginning to seep through low-hanging clouds, filtered through tree branches and leaves. Dew coated the railings that separate the concrete stairways from lush plantings. The personality and preferences of the locals who maintain the green space become apparent upon closer inspection. Cacti are mixed among butterfly bushes. Redwoods shadow succulents. A petite multi-tier pagoda is hidden among palms.
The three flights of the Saturn Street Steps connect Saturn and Ord streets. A landing between each flight invites lingering. A dirt path offers an alternative path, leading to a rustic and uneven stairway constructed of four-by-fours. Trees, bushes, groundcover and flowers abound, some plants are so green it hurts the eyes. I’ve spent plenty of time in wild places but have never seen such a defiant explosion of plant life within an overwhelming urban setting.
I took to the stairs like a kid, pausing to wonder at plants I didn’t recognize. Karen was ahead of me, appeared to appreciate not only that we found this place but that it was more wonderful than imagined. A few locals passed by, one with a dog out for a walk. This was a regular jaunt for the dog; he stopped to lap up water from dog bowls placed just off the dirt path.
The Saturn Street Steps dumped us out on Ord Street, itself a short quarter mile road off the high end of Market Street. Gentrification has hit Ord Street. Scattered among Victorian homes built in the early 1900s are others that went up in the 1930s, showing an early art-deco influence. Many appear recently refreshed; we saw at least one that’s in the early stages of a total restoration, including excavation under the foundation for a garage. It’s a sleepy street, all the more quiet this early morning.
The Vulcan Steps are just half a block down Ord Street from the Saturn Street Stairs. While the openness of the Saturn Street Stairs offers a chance to meander and inspire lingering, the Vulcan Steps are bordered by an urban forest on one side, by bungalows and cottages with well-tended gardens and patios on the other. Flowers and leaves sparkled with droplets of recent rain. They fall when I brush against a plant.
Though not long, Vulcan Steps are secluded, secreted away from the usual neighborhood noise. The narrow stairs climb the steep hillside, squeezed between picket fences and mature trees before ending at Levant Street. Apparently nearly all of the homes here are accessible only by foot. The fact that all supplies must be carried in harken back to the pioneer spirit that built this city. The lushness of the plant life is surprising, trees, bushes, succulents and flowers sharing space, soil and sun. Resident caretakers have clearly been busy taming wild branches, tilling dirt.
We took our time climbing Vulcan Steps, then reversed course. I stopped to look, take photos, growing more aware of our surroundings with each close up.
I was more in the moment this day, maybe Karen was too. We both breathed in everything around us; the plants, the houses, the history. This awareness slowly spread, stretching to the city beyond and below Saturn Street Steps. That’s how we caught a glimpse of another set of stairs, just to the north.
What we had seen were the Corona Heights Park trails. It’s not much of a park and more of an ugly peak of dirt and rocks. We picked our way around puddles and up a hillside trail that wound the south side and ended up on the eastern slope. The recently washed air was clear. The eastern horizon, across the bay, was starkly outlined against wisps of clouds. Sutro Tower stood silently behind us. The Transamerica Pyramid rises out of downtown, only its shape distinct. It is now overshadowed by newer and taller high-rises.
But this is a park in the city. A hipster sits on a rock, the highest point, talking on his cell phone louder than necessary. Car noises fade in and out. But Corona Heights Park is about the nearly 360-degree view. It stretches from the Presido to the Marina District and Russian Hill, across downtown and Nob Hill, and south to the Mission and Noe Valley.
But I’m glad we’re here. Glad for the reminder that nature can be found everywhere, glad for this small piece of where we live.
I usually eyeball them through jaundiced eyes. Though instinctively taking inventory of every feature — shelter, shade, structure — I’d normally pass up a puddle made even more unappealing by strategically placed CalTrans-orange barrier netting.
But I missed Opening Day of trout season last Saturday. So, while a preference for good hygiene precluded any thought of sullying waders in the tepid water, it was hard the next day to pass up an opportunity to soak a line to test a presumption that life might be found beneath the surface.
My son’s tales of casting spinners to willing small bass brought me to this containment pond, barely five minutes from the house. Not much more than 50 feet across, there was nothing remarkable about it. The setting was serene enough, being that it is behind a [location redacted]. Trees line the south bank, providing a bit of shade and shelter. Reeds sprout near a corrugated culvert pipe and a darkness that comes with depth suggested a smaller drop off about five feet from shore.
“Nothing much over eight inches,” he had said.
Parked on a nearby street, I returned the 5 wt. to the trunk, selecting the 3 wt., thinking the smaller rod would offer a more sporting fight. We hiked over sidewalk and up a dirt embankment to get there.
Lacking any need for sophisticated assembly of a rod or the puzzling about the appropriate fly, my son and his girlfriend were soon throwing spinners and eliciting strikes. I maintained a semblance of dignity, but it’s a bit unsettling to publicly rig a fly rod while visitors to the [redacted] came and went by, while the sound of compression braking floated up from a nearby Bay Area highway. Being predisposed to size 20 Parachute Adams and even smaller nymphs, my choice of suitable flies was limited. A bluegill-ish streamer pattern was the ultimate choice.
superiority advantage of fly fishing was immediately apparent. After three casts I managed to land the “largest” fish my son had seen pulled from this urban lagoon. All of 10 inches, it was a fun match for the 3 wt. This pattern continued, with more fish missed than hooked.
Previous encounters with bass — actually, lack thereof — left me a bit dismissive and a bit underprepared, but playing these little fish helped reduce a twitch developed during a winter devoid of any fishing. But the contentment that snuck up on me vanished in an in-your-face demonstration of the circle of life; a demonstration of an oft-told fish story that I had never personally experienced.
Like any of the half dozen other six-, eight- or 10-inchers, this small bass offered up a small tussle, until a large shadow shot forward and engulfed it. Any leader that was visible quickly disappeared as the shadow returned to the depths. A short tug of war ensued. Just as quickly, my line and rod went limp. It was more than I bargained for, but a welcome reminder why I enjoy this sport.In a cloud of optimism but without any expectations, my box of streamers was re-examined and a heavier, bead-head yellow woolly bugger tied on. The smaller bass paid a bit more attention to this fly, though it was equal to at least a quarter of their body length. After a few casts, I remembered to let it settle a bit, hoping that might present the fly to the fish a bit longer. This tactic worked well enough, and I landed about 24 inches of bass six to eight inches at time.
The wind made casting a bit of a chore with a big fly on such a small rod, but soon enough I was more consistently hitting promising water. Finally the fly landed where directed. I paused; stripped in line, paused again, stripped. The line stopped in mid-strip. Being more accustomed to embedding a hook in an underwater log or moss-encrusted rock, it wasn’t until my line shivered that I realized there was a big(ger) fish on the other end. The choice of a small 3 wt. rod and reel was quickly called into question; the reel’s drag screaming painfully and the rod bending into an uncomfortable semiellipse.
There’s no gingerly playing a big fish on a small rod. Do so and you’ll probably lose this fish. Horse a fish too much and you’ll probably break equipment.
Without a net, I was unprepared for a fish of any size. But the fishing gods must have been smiling on me. Time seemed to slip away, eventually the fight ebbed and a lip was gripped.
In the end, I found my temporary fix last weekend far from clear, cool streams in which I’ll be wading when you read this.
I tend to keep the soapbox tucked away when writing for this modest blog, but sometimes errant thoughts are worth sharing, particularly when they might just benefit all of us while making the most use of federal tax dollars. The following is presented without further editorializing.
|Gun Control Proposals||Marriage Control Proposals|
|Require universal background checks for all gun sales, including those by private sellers that currently are exempt.||Require universal background checks for all marriages, especially those performed by private Las Vegas chapels.|
|Limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.||Limiting marital arguments to 10 rounds.|
|Financing programs to train more police officers, first responders and school officials on how to respond to active armed attacks.||Financing programs to train more marriage officiants on how to respond to and dissolve ill-advised engagements.|
|Starting a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.||Starting a national safe and responsible marriage campaign.|
|Send a letter from ATF to licensed dealers with guidance on how to facilitate background checks for private sellers.||Send a letter from The Library of Congress to licensed marriage facilitators (civil, religious and otherwise) with guidance on how to facilitate background checks AND DNA TESTS for both engaged parties.|
|Remove barriers that prevent states from reporting information on people prohibited from gun ownership for mental health reasons.||Remove barriers that prevent states from reporting information on people prohibited from marriage for mental health reasons.|
Maybe it’s just jealousy that [name redacted] earns money (or at least gets a tax write off) fly fishing, but I was bit more than puzzled after running across a new-to-me fly fishing show. The show is nationally distributed, so it must attract enough of an audience, but I just can’t figure it out. Perhaps it’s because it highlights waters in another part of the country, and I’m generally unfamiliar with the fishing opportunities outside the West.
The show is decidedly destination focused, with very little instruction. The host and show do enthusiastically support various charitable organizations and events, which is a great.
After a few episodes, however, I can’t decide if this show is one big advertisement for pay-to-play fisheries or a true reflection of the fly fishing experience in other locales. I’m used to stepping away from civilization for most of my fishing, but half the scenes in this show include a nice-looking cabin or lodge in the background, with parking only a few steps away from the water. Most of the time, this show is like fly fishing porn; easy fishing and big fish, always with plenty of casting room.
But if I can’t be out on the water, and whether tying flies or just vegetating in front of the TV, I expect most fly fishing shows to — directly or indirectly — teach me something beyond where to go.
Perhaps I ask a little too much of fly fishing media?
Apparently you never know what will find you when chasing salmon and halibut in the salt off Vancouver Island, B.C. via New York Daily News