There Are So Many Oceans

I can’t remember how or when Mahler’s 9th Symphony became so closely associated, “in my mind,” with the Bay Area or to that part of my narrative where I ended up out here. When I listen to it, I see reel after reel of 1960’s-era footage of San Francisco in my head: cars cruising the great highway or stacked bumper to bumper on the lower level of the west side of the Bay Bridge, flowers blooming in time-lapse on Telegraph Hill, ocean winds berating the always already disfigured Cypress trees, luminescent ocean mists hovering over the perpetually greening flora, etcetera.

Last Wednesday my daughter and I spent a couple of hours playing at Ocean Beach, under the watchful gaze of three giant butts spray-painted on the rocks beneath the Cliff House, and I was hearing the symphony in my head (which makes sense considering the oneiric quality of lazy afternoons at the beach) and the part of the feeling that didn’t have to do with place or space emerged: as I looked at this vibrant little creature, this tiny close friend of mine, as I watched her whole body coil up in expectation of imminent collision with a briny wave, or listened as she explained something I couldn’t understand, I had this strange sense that the present and past and future were all simultaneously co-engendered in each other, of the weird sort of perfectness of being surprised by something like inevitability.

So Mahler’s 9th was all of the sudden like a bridge, a big, red, Golden Gate Bridge, a node where the futures and pasts and presents all sort of traveled together, in different directions and at different speeds and for different reasons, on foot or in cars or on rented city bikes. On one side there was endless ocean and on the other a vast bay, dotted with human things. Looking at the latter, on the drive out, my daughter told me “Papa: there are so many oceans!” And it felt like we had all the time in the world.

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