(An excerpt from my novel, "Wilderness").
We’d intended to have breakfast in bed, and spend a lazy morning lying around in the crisp morning air while San Francisco slowly woke up around us. We’d planned on enjoying the breaking of dawn together, and the swelling warmth of the sun as it rose over the rooftops of the neighborhoods off to the east. It had shaped up to be a brilliant beginning to a Saturday, and because the Richmond district is considerably elevated from the downtown area of San Francisco, from my rooftop we could see all the way across the Bay to the Berkeley Hills.
Since we already had a good start on the day, Marty and I decided to go see the buffalo over on the west end of Golden Gate Park, and then take a leisurely walk out to Ocean Beach, and the Lands End trails from there. We threw Wag in the Jeep, jumped in behind him, and hit the still quiet streets of San Francisco. Because hardly anybody else was even out of bed yet, we felt like bandits in the process of stealing the best part of everybody else’s day. We stopped in at Royal Grounds on Geary Blvd. at 17th for orange juice and bagels, then just a couple of minutes later pulled quietly off the road near the buffalo enclosure in the Park.
Marty had never been out there before, but it had been a regular destination for me for several years. I’d always go in the early morning, although every once in a while I’d stop by in the late evening. I’d usually ride my bike, or run, if I felt particularly energetic. It always helped me work out accumulated stress, and I really enjoyed the personal interaction with these magnificent creatures. There was never anyone else around. In all the time that I’d been visiting the buffalo I might have encountered other people fewer times than I could count on the proverbial fingers of one hand. It was the best-kept secret in all of San Francisco, and I felt good to share it with Marty.
She was breathless as we walked up to the pasture, and as the buffalo began calmly migrating over towards us she whispered to me that she hoped she doesn’t wet her pants. She was beside herself with awe, and a not-too-well-concealed excitement. I pointed Napoleon out to her. He was the smallest male, but had the biggest self-identity. Ego, if you will. In his mind he was Sasquatch, he was Moses on the Mountain, he was the Sun God, he was Geronimo, and Chief Joseph too.
I never knew his real name. Might even be Napoleon, for all I know.
Silent half-snorts of warm breath in the cool morning air made the scene more a surreal painting than a private gathering of man and beast. These were creatures that looked you in the eye when communicating with you, unlike many of the two-legged variety I encounter throughout the regular course of my usual day. There is an ancient wisdom actually visible, a soul behind the eyes that is unmistakable in these animals. There is also a sadness, and an expectation of understanding that few other creatures would have of you.
We extended our hands through the fence. A couple of them licked Marty’s fingers, and she said she wished she could hug them. She said they possess such incredible warmth, and such accessibility for being such magnificent animals, and that she really had no idea they were so enormous. We interacted physically with them as best we could, then became quiet, both of us, transfixed really, as we spent another half hour just looking, just speaking with them silently, as one would commune with oneself, or with an angel of God, on top of a very sacred mountain.
We left feeling different, as I always have after time in the company of the buffalo.
Marty said she understood why I’ve always come here.
She said she’d like to come back with me again, as soon as we possibly could.