Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Before crossing Fulton Street to the Rose Garden
in Golden Gate Park
I tuck my parrot, Streak,
safely under my jacket.
Might jump into traffic. Almost lost her once.

Late spring. The Garden is an emblazoned
botanical candy shop
of fragrant kaleidoscopic shimmering colors: 
butter yellow, purple, reds, apricot, orange, pink, white,
other colors. Some of these queens of flowers,
including densely clustered floribundas, are labeled
Mardi Gras, Dream Come True, Sans Souci, Sheer Bliss,
Roman Holiday, Mystic Beauty, Rainbow Knockouts.
A rose is a rose is a rose. Smells sweet by any name.
Streak, now on my shoulder,
a burst of color too – green, yellow, blue, burnt-umber -
bobs her head comically to passersby. 

We cut through a fence of rose-laden trellises
to a secluded bowl-shaped field perfect for picnics,
then across a larger field strewn with small portable soccer goals
for practice when the nearby grammar school lets out.
Used to play soccer. Great game.

We cross JFK drive
to the cr-r-uck, c-r-uck, cr-r-ucking  of  ravens.
Tricksters in Indian mythology. Smart.

Moving up Stow Lake Drive
we pass a California Pepper Tree,
several reddish-pink flowered New Zealand Tea trees, 
pockets of gay wildflowers, flowering shrubs,
carefully planted flower-beds,
and ferns such as Western Lady Fan. 
Wish I knew more about flowers and trees.
In Florida, when I was five,
fell out of a Banyan tree. Broke my arm.

The grassy areas of the park
are pock-marked by dirt-mounds of gopher holes; 
the little brown burrowing buck-toothed creatures
are hard to see, but there’s one
near the sidewalk darting its head back and forth
like a soldier in a foxhole overcome by curiosity
but refusing to come fully out. 

Streak and I pass the bicycle rental office
on the way to the boathouse and snack shop
where elderly from the neighborhood
hang out on benches overlooking the lake.
I often see the same man
taking pictures from the west bank
in a spot where still water reflects foliage, birds float,
and Strawberry Hill is framed between Cypress trees. 
The fascination of water, gently rippling, restful.
Birds so tame.
Most of the colored paddle boats and green row boats
are tied up; on weekends they are much in use 
by lovers, or by families.
I love sailing in San Francisco Bay.
Scary wind sometimes.
The water birds, especially gulls, geese, and Mallard ducks
whose males are gaudy -
Gaudeamus  igitur…Juvenes dum sumus -
congregate near the boathouse
and squabble over thrown bits and pieces.
Streak regards her feathered cousins with curiosity.

Stow Lake is a moat: it surrounds
Strawberry Hill
which can be crossed to by two bridges:
the simple Roman Bridge
or the rough-stoned double-arched Rustic Bridge.
Strolling around the lake,
on a path originally used for horse-drawn carriages,
we see an occasional squirrel,
a single blue-jay, a robin or two, some cowbirds. 
As a kid, I shot birds and squirrels.
With a .22. Yuck!
Until I grew ashamed of the blood and guts. 

A Canadian goose perches on a shore-rock
standing sentry over its gaggle of fluffy goslings;
further on a paddling of under soft ducks dip, bottoms up
like bathtub toys,
in the nourishment-laden
soupy pea-green water tinged with emerald.
Should have been an ornithologist.
Bird man of Stow Lake.

I take Streak off my shoulder
and we rest on a bench while she 
scuttles sideways along the backrest
as I gaze in awe at a slate-colored Great Blue Heron
standing on one leg, silent, stately, composed.
Guten tag mein herren.

We move along and see
more than a dozen western pond turtles
on a half-submerged log.
The turtles crane their dark-brown necks to the sun;
Their deep- olive shells seem like stepping stones to heaven.

School children, fascinated with Streak, approach us.
I encourage her to talk English
but she just bobs and weaves, pins her eyes, jabbers and croons.
Hey, bird. Can you talk?
Yeah, I can talk. Can you fly?

We cross over the Rustic Bridge to Strawberry Hill
and walk eastward along the shore -
what is so appealing about islands? -
to the Chinese Peace Pavillion.
Ah Buddhism!  So sane, so sensible,
so psychological. Om Mani Padme Hum.

The pavilion, dark red pillars,
bluish-green glazed tile roof, marble stools,  
ornately painted arabesque ceiling panels
with dragon motifs, is a quiet place
near the steady splosh of Huntington Falls.
People get married at the Falls,
a place of glistening spiritual quietude
where water drops 75 feet and
flows into the lake over flat gray stones.
Snowy egrets wade here,
far whiter than milk or cotton
or a white wedding dress.
Streak and I linger in this numinous place.

Then we climb to the top of the hill
where I put Streak on a branch
and take in the 360 degree views:
the city, the ocean,  the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais.
Can see the Farallones on a good day, they say.
On the way back down beside the Falls,
I put Streak on the iron banister which she slides down 
until, losing balance, she flies to my shoulder.
We enjoy this and do it several times.
What would I do without this silly,
 playful bird I am so fond of?
And what she without me?

We walk north from the Falls over the Roman Bridge,
then east along the north end of the lake
where a clutch of gulls, ducks and geese are feeding
on bread and popcorn.
A pair of Brown Pelicans fly past
like two old front-heavy Boeing Stratocruisers.
Pelicans are my favorite birds.

Leaving the lake we take a path
that winds through English Ivy ground cover, small palms,
purplish-blue wildflowers,
flowering cherry trees.
In a glade, a stand of Yew trees
How do you do, yew? It’s me and Streakadoo
and a fan-leaved Ginkgo tree.
Gingko. Oldest plant on earth. Living fossil.

Streak and I re-cross JFK Drive at the Rose Garden,
go right and descend into the Hollow which
lies between the Drive and Fulton Street.
The Hollow, a calm and soothing woody place
is a deeply-shaded natural temple of tall Monterey Pines
and camphor-scented Blue Gum Eucalyptus;
a lush grove whose soft dappled ground is strewn
with fallen branches and trunks and criss-crossed by dirt paths.
I feel whole here. At peace.
Streak is riding backwards now;
I see and feel  her tail near my left cheek.

We climb up the side of the Hollow.
I put Streak under my jacket to cross Fulton Street again.
For me and my fine feathered friend,
our walk has come to an end.

David L. O’Neal