Every day sights in Bernal Heights

I had other plans for today, but I took a walk instead. These neighborhood posts have lately drawn links from the local blogging scene. But regular visitors here know I've been beaming snapshots of Bernal Heights out to the world for many years. California garden talk brings people in from all over. You know who you are.

Here's a partial list going back to 2006. I'm sure a complete list would be longer.





























I remember my first visit visit to Bernal Heights, in 1989. I was 19 and I volunteered for the Shanti Project, a practical support organization for people living with AIDS. They called me one day and asked if I could go "all the way down to Cortland Street". I had not heard of Cortland Street before, but my time was generally free and I never turned them down.

Basically, I'd show up at someone's house, do a little light house cleaning, some laundry, maybe run a few errands. If the client had enough energy, sometimes we would just talk or watch TV. I used to watch the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour with a client on Noe Street every Friday at 3. I had some regular clients I'd see weekly, and I also did one-offs when Shanti needed someone to fill in for another volunteer who was on vacation or otherwise unavailable.

It's become hard for me to recollect those years honestly. I was young and pretty much alone. I moved here as a college dropout from UC Santa Cruz and did odd jobs for money. You could do that back then and get by just fine. I arrived in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and the height of AIDS activism. I pariticipated a little bit, but for the most part I preferred Shanti's service-oriented approach. AIDS never felt like my generation's crisis exactly--it tolled on the generation before me and my generation rolled in its wake.

I was a kid from the suburbs, but ready for the world. San Francisco was a thrilling place to be and I wanted to be a part of it. It's a world gone by. In fact, I count two worlds that have come and gone since then.

During the Shanti world, we were not supposed to talk about our Shanti clients to people outside of Shanti. We kept confidences. I don't feel like it's absolutely necessary to do that anymore since everyone is most likely long dead. The man I came to see on Cortland that day lived in a cottage behind one of the businesses in the center of the street. Using Google Maps, I can see a few candidates for places it might have been, but I can't be sure which one it was. He was the original owner the eclectic/vintage collectables shop on 16th Street named Pink Paraffin. I think it's where Body Manipulations is now. He sent me to the drug store for Dulcolax.

There was a drug store on Cortland Street then.  A small Walgreens probably.
It's funny what you cannot find on a Google search, like details from the not-so-distant past.

"Was there a Walgreen's on Cortland Street in the late 1980s?"

Google is not forthcoming on the matter.

Since I lived in the gritty Tenderloin back then, and it was gritty (415 Jones #505), I mostly serviced clients in the Tenderloin. They did not live as long as the men who lived in respectable parts of town, and their AIDS complications were far more gruesome. I've been inside a number of those residential hotels downtown. It's not pretty. As a result, I never needed any extra reminders about practicing safer sex. I also learned for sure I needed to go back to college so I wouldn't end up living in a residential hotel some day. I had zero tolerance for AIDS-phobia after that, and I have never been patient with homophobes. I went back to Santa Cruz a couple years later and took a degree in chemistry. Anyway, this is all really far afield from what I usually do on this blog!

Honestly, I don't know what brought this on. I'm back in school again getting a Master's degree, this time in math. It has been very challenging these last few weeks, heading into final stages before graduation. I have 2 big 4-hour exams two weeks from tomorrow. I've been very stressed about it and I study constantly. Maybe I needed a break. Maybe this presages changes in the blog to come after I graduate. Maybe it means nothing. Thinking  about the blog got me thinking about my life. San Francisco has been a big part of my life. This is where I live.





I did not plan to take pictures today. I was on Bernal Hill when I realized I had my
camera in my bag. I'm glad I did have it because a garden I'd never seen before caught
my eye. How have I never noticed this before? Is it new? It was the Geranium maderense
that caught my eye.


I don't think I need to tell you exactly where it is. If you think you need to know, DM
me on Twitter and we'll talk. The people who've done this might appreciate the



It's quite brilliant. They've used tires, cinderblocks and other discarded materials
to terrace and shore up the bottom of a hill that might otherwise slide right in to
the back of their homes.






Good job, people. Bravo.

Other than that, I think I've taken most of the following pictures before.
Chances are, they are new to you, or you don't remember.



This one says a lot I think.


Aeonium with oxalis. I have definitely taken this one before.


Here's one thing you can do if you have a chert outcropping in your driveway.
Decorate it!



Agave 'Blue Glow' and Euphorbia millii. Cactus Jungle in Berkeley is a good place to find
that agave fairly reliably if you are in the market for one.


Limonium perezii


Erigeron karvinskianus. These both flower all year, but there is a feeling of
springtime profusion right now.


This variety of Pittosporum tenuifolium is a great plant for
defining boundaries or edging narrow spaces.



For some reason, this picture already has 89 views in Flickr! Someone must have put
it somewhere. I wasn't even going to use it.

lol why does this picture have 51 views??

If you don't already know, this fabulous yellow tree on Elsie is California native Fremontodendron californicum.  This specimen has reached enormous size for the species; they are not known for their longevity.


Enjoy it, for one day it may be gone.


If you plant no plants in San Francisco, it is likely you will still have Foeniculum vulgare and Centranthus ruber. I prefer the latter's common name, Red Valerian. Say it. Red Valerian. A beautiful sound.


There are not many clematis vines in Bernal Heights. I think I say that with some authority!


And even fewer...Cantua?


But there are many fine fuchsias.




Uh, speaking of Camaros, Guy took the Volt in to the Chevy dealer for recall work, and they gave him this to drive for a few days. You see the humor in that, don't you?






There's that Pittosporum again.




The Folsom Street Chinese elms. Ulmus parvifolia.



The House of Green Dahlias. That's what I call it anyway.


More Red Valerian.


More Pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum)


Open space. Big skies.


You may have the little patch of Salvia spathacea on the east end of Bernal Hill. Another California native. I've been monitoring it since I moved here.




I took two pictures here and couldn't decide which one to use and I got conflicting feedback on Twitter. You decide.


I believe we're calling this neighborhood south of us the Portola. Is that right?


I like your creamy colors, Portola.


Another patch of Salvia spathacea next to the community garden. Hummingbird sage. I have a bunch in my garden, but I rarely see hummingbirds using it. Whatevs.



More red valerian.


This almost looks like native Carpenteria. Is it?


I think it is!



I'm not sure which Ceanothus that is, with the shark-gray agave. Is it 'Joyce Coulter'?


Bulbinella I think.


We're going to end, right here. Abruptly, as we often do...


Katie Swanberg said...

I always knew you had a previous blog, but I'd never seen you link to it. And the history of how you came to live in and love San Francisco - adore. Thanks for sharing.

cdillon said...

Thank you for all your pictures and your words. You do such excellent, beautiful work.

Kelly said...

Congratulations and good luck with your master's in math! Really enjoy your blog, and now I find we have something in common! I teach math at a community college and if you're wondering about your next career, I highly recommend it!

Phillip Oliver said...

Fascinating as always!

Les said...

Another great tour, and I appreciated the background info. If you were asking our opinion on the two pictures of the roadways, I vote for the first, it has a greater sense of convergence.

Anonymous said...

You sound like a very kind person. I wish you the best of luck on those exams.

I'm so glad you decided to go for another very entertaining walk.
This week I plan to look at all your walks, beginning with the ones I missed before I found your blog. Discovering that they are there is like finding still another bag of favorite candy in the back of the cupboard. Thanks!

Hilda said...

These are awesome! Thanks for sharing Bernal Heights... your photos have convinced me to get out there and visit good friends I have not seen in a while !! (AND, of course spend time checking out the scenery, the gardens, and the every-day art of the part CA)! : )

dkzody said...

Love the backstory. Love the photos. I am coming to housesit in Bernal Heights in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to wandering and photographing.

Josh said...

Thanks for this wonderful and expansive post.

Annie in Austin said...

Dear Chuck,
You'd think after coming along with you on quite a few of these strolls that I could recognize some of the plants, but instead I get hypnotized by the images and just let the shapes & colors and different-ness of Bernal from IL or TX roll past like a tide. And this time the story of your arrival & volunteer work was as hypnotizing as the tour photos and the ingenious recyclers' garden.
Thanks much and best of luck on the exams.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

rainymountain said...

Thanks for a fantastic walk - I can see why this city caught and holds you. I hope the walk and photography destressed you. Very best wishes for a successful outcome to your exams. Your faithful readers will all be cheering you on.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my. I lived in several places during my hippie years in the City (68 to 76), but only made it to BH once. What a lovely spot and I'm so sorry to have missed it, but your photos tell a beautiful story. Thanks so much!

Denise said...

Not to be mean, but I love it when you stress out over math tests! Beautiful post, Chuck, and best of luck with the tests.

Jenn said...

A Camero? Somebody's got a mean streak! Funny.

ryan said...

Wow, I knew you'd done a lot of these walks, but it's different to see a list of them. Really cool. And the back story is good to read. Kind of adds to the snapshot in time quality of all of the walks. Hope the exams go well or went well as the case may be.