"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Spiral of Potrero Hill

“What is art /
 But life upon the larger scale, the higher,
 / When, graduating up in a spiral line
 / Of still expanding and ascending gyres,
 / It pushed toward the intense significance
 / Of all things, hungry for the Infinite? / 
Art's life—and where we live, we suffer and toil.”
---Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1856), Book IV, line 1150
Child walking the spiral of Potrero Hill
Fifty thousand years ago humans began drawing spirals, beautiful and simple, a curve drawn from a central point, looping around and around a center point. They have an archetypal resonance, something deep and ancient, although they are found in commonplace things--the cross-section of shells, flowers petals, seed clusters, birds soaring on thermals, or water going down a drain.
One day my child and I found a magical spiral made of stones in a hidden spot in San Francisco.
The Spiral of San Francisco

We had been visiting my mom on Potrero Hill, and went to my favorite childhood open space, where I used to ride down grassy slopes on cardboard. My friends and I called this place “The Field,” but now it's known as the Starr King Open Space, a protected environmental area thanks to the organization of contemporary neighbors. It's three and a half acres around Carolina and 23rd Streets, De Haro and 24th Streets, and where Carolina intersects with Wisconsin Street.

 It was late summer and the grass was dry, the poppies golden, and the views from the serpentine outcroppings incredible and clear, sweeping across the valley that the City appears to be. We wandered up the hill, past the grove of eucalyptus trees rattling in the wind, and towards the back part.

In the far southern end of The Field, almost at the fence that borders neighboring yards, a large circular pattern of serpentine-looking stones appeared in the grass. It was a spiral, maybe fifteen feet in diameter, much like the labyrinth of rocks in McLaren Park, both having great artistic value and a spiritual nature. I followed its path curving in, then followed it out. 

Meditative Aspect

Walk the spiral any way you like, but if you do it in a meditative way the experience is only better, in my opinion. Humans impart meaning, and many believe the spiral symbolizes life, death, and rebirth through its motion. One might focus inwardly when walking towards the center, and focus on expansion when walking outwards.

Final Note

As with any spiritual place, care and respect ought to be given to this spiral—perhaps by adding a stone to its walls, or finding something out of sync that has blown in, like a candy wrapper or a broken branch. Enjoy it while it lasts in this ever-changing city of hundreds of thousands of people. It is one artistic and spiritual destination, a contemplative space in the midst of frenetic energy. And blessed be. 

Relevant Links

At a serpentine outcropping, facing southeast