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Where to Find a Quiet Spot for Contemplation
By Jim Christie
Muni crashes, high rents, violent boys, NRA, Y2K, Alan Greenspan, Kosovo, flesh-eating bacteria.... Had it up to here?
Looking for a refuge from the world -- a place to ponder your own bellybutton?
We all need a break sometimes, a few moments of quiet reflection. So prior to the Voice's summer hiatus (we're off for the month of August), we compiled a list of our favorite Noe Valley meditation spots for your peaceful enjoyment.
Tranquillity was the key criterion, but you'll find that some of the places are near private residences or are occupied by other solitude-seekers. So, just a quick reminder -- please respect others' privacy and always leave these meditation spots in better condition than you found them.
Noe Valley Library Patio
Go through the library's children's area and out the back door to find one of Noe Valley's most restful havens. The library's sunny "back yard" includes a redwood deck partially shaded by tall trees and bounded by long wooden benches. There are several tables if you simply want to read or have a snack (please take away your litter).
You'll also find burgeoning planters' boxes and flower gardens (sniffing's fine, picking's not) along the back and sides of the building, which are tended by the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners. SLUG coordinator Terry Eichler (648-3630) says, "This is a wonderful place to hang out," and he's right.
The library is at 451 Jersey St. (near Castro), and the patio is open during library hours: Tuesdays, 10 to 9; Wednesdays, 1 to 9; Thursdays, 10 to 6; Fridays, 1 to 6; and Saturdays, noon to 6 (closed Sundays and Mondays).
Billy Goat Hill
If you climb to the rocky outcropping near the summit of Billy Goat Hill, you're going to need a few minutes to catch your breath, even if meditation is not your goal. So sit down, relax, and say "Om."
Then admire one of Noe Valley's finest views, which takes in good old N.V. as well as the Mission, Potrero Hill, and Bernal Heights. Let your eyes rise for a panorama that spans from the Bay Bridge to Candlestick Point, with the East and South Bay as a backdrop.
If you're inclined to act like a kid, you might find a rope swing tied to a limb of the huge eucalyptus tree nearby.
Feeling "green?" Take away a discarded bottle or can -- every little bit helps.
There are two ways to reach the Billy Goat Hill summit: The "low road" (you'll have to use your calf muscles) begins at Laidley and 30th streets. The "high road" (no climbing) is on Beacon Street, halfway between Diamond Street and the top of the Harry Street stairs. Note: The Harry Street steps may offer another site for contemplation -- see below.
Hilltop Open Space
What a wonderful, almost hidden spot this is. Its nickname, Hilltop Open Space, is a succinct description; just add "with a superb view of Twin Peaks," and you get the idea.
You can thank Evelyn Martin and the Duncan-Newburg Association (DNA) for the park's existence. Back in the mid-'80s, this residents group convinced the city to keep the hill as a public open space. DNA later installed the large wooden bench at the top (seating for six), and started maintaining the surrounding land. Call Pat Lockhart (282-9360) if you'd like to get involved in garden tending.
There are two ways to reach Hilltop. Go to the dual street sign that says "2000 Castro" and "600 Duncan" and there you are. Or take the fun route: Go to the juncture of Castro, 27th, and Newburg streets, where you'll see a set of stairs ascending east along 27th (and where you'll also find a steeply terraced corner garden, courtesy of DNA). Climb the stairs several steps and take a right onto a set of wooden stairs that rises past a couple of houses. The last house on the left contains a marvelous metal sculpture garden created by artist Amy Blackstone.
You'll see birds, cats, dragonflies, octopi, dinosaurs, and many other beasties, all in playful poses. Tiptoe past the sculpture garden to reach Hilltop.
Upper Douglass Park
Upon your arrival at Upper Douglass Park you're liable to think this place has gone to the dogs, who are often romping joyfully around the field. But there's plenty of solitude for bipeds who follow the trail winding around and above the park. Watch your step, because the trail is steep and the footing sometimes unsure. Step through the huge hole in the fence (on the north side, above the baseball diamond) and turn right -- you'll eventually be rewarded with views of the city looking north.
An alternative is to walk across the baseball diamond itself to the gate in deep left field. It leads to a trail above Douglass Playground, where you can sit and watch the kids playing below, or just listen to the wind whistling through the pines.
Upper Douglass Park is also the site of Wednesday and Friday morning (10 a.m. to noon) classes in Tai Chi, the martial art that focuses on breathing, self-awareness, and living in balance. Call instructor Chris Sequeira (773-8185) for details.
There are two entrances to Upper Douglass Park: at Douglass and 27th streets, or take the stairs down from Diamond Heights Boulevard at 27th Street.
Stairways with a View
The good news about these stairways is the view, while the downside is your backside and how much cement-sitting it can handle.
Diamond and Valley: Look for stellar southeast Bay and Potrero sights from the top of these stairs on Diamond between 28th and 29th streets. Descend to Valley and take in the finely landscaped median strips. Succulents, dazzlingly colored flora, and sipping and zipping hummingbirds abound.
Rayburn and Liberty: There are Twin Peaks and Castro District views from this cul-de-sac-like bend in the road. Take a stroll in the surrounds to admire well-maintained homes in one of Noe Valley's more secluded residential areas.
27th between Noe and Castro: Scan Potrero Hill and the East Bay from one of Noe Valley's highest vantage points. The upper portion of the stairs are new, to go along with the new apartments at the top. The city is currently landscaping the hill, so the full beauty of this site lies somewhere in the future.
Noe and Duncan: This is more of a leaning than a sitting spot. You'll find a peach-colored, waist-high wall separating the sidewalk from a nice strip of garden. The site affords marvelous views of St. Paul's spires, India Basin, and Bernal Hill. Also, kudos to the homeowners who did a splendid job of remodeling the brown-shingled, green-trimmed house at 1449 Noe St.
Castro and Day: This set of stairs has a fine view of Billy Goat Hill (to your right), and partially obstructed views of outer Noe Valley. You won't mind the "obstructions," though, because they consist of swaying conifer trees that will give you the sense of being in Tahoe. Look closely at the limbs for baby cones.
Castro and Duncan: This west-facing stair summit is where the 2000 block of Castro dead-ends, just behind the Hilltop Open Space. It's funny how you feel so high up when you're atop Billy Goat Hill, but when you sit here, you'll be looking down on the Goat.
Harry Street Stairs: Go to the top of these stairs, at Harry and Beacon streets, (or to the bottom on Laidley), and enter Noe Valley's one true jungle.
Houses of Worship
For peace and quiet indoors, a number of fine churches call Noe Valley home.
St. Philip's Catholic Church: 725 Diamond at Elizabeth Street. Step inside this calm sanctuary and you'll immediately feel relaxed. Cool darkness and more than a dozen beautiful stained-glass windows will have you peacefully reflecting in no time. You can visit the church outside of normal services Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Father Michael Healy will also accommodate visitors who wish to enter at other times. Just stop by the rectory or call 282-0141.
Noe Valley Ministry (Presbyterian Church U.S.A.): Ascend to the Ministry's second floor and walk to the rear of the sanctuary. On both sides of the stage are transepts that offer "quiet times." On the left are chairs, couches, an electric hot-water thermos, cups, and tea bags, and a bookshelf filled with religious books. The right side is a meditation and prayer area with pillows, a hymnal and Bible, and a loose-leaf prayer book in which you can write prayers for loved ones.
Quiet hours are from 7 to 9 a.m., noon to 1 p.m., and 5 to 6 p.m. weekdays, and there is a Wednesday 9:30 a.m. meditation gathering led by Rev. Keenan Kelsey.
The Ministry is at 1021 Sanchez St. (at 23rd Street), 282-2317.
St. Paul's Catholic Church: The best time to enjoy the spacious, beautiful confines of St. Paul's is between 4 and 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Father Mario Farana says this is when the services, baptisms, and weddings have ended and before the evening services have begun.
St. Paul's is at the corner of Church and Valley. Call or visit the rectory (221 Valley St.; 648-7538) if you'd like to gain access to the church during weekdays. The rectory is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bethany Methodist Church: Rev. Karen Oliveto invites visitors to enter the church's sanctuary on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Just use the Clipper Street entrance rather than the Sanchez Street door. There's a children's daycare area next door to the sanctuary, so you won't find absolute silence, but Oliveto says it's quite peaceful nevertheless.
Bethany is at 1268 Sanchez St. (at Clipper). Call 647-8393 for information.
Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church: Rev. Armand Kreft says that access to the church outside of regular services is available to those who ring the doorbell during these times: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon; and Wednesday from 2 to 7 p.m.
Holy Innocents, and its wonderful 1890s' "Arts and Crafts" architecture, is at 455 Fair Oaks St., between 25th and 26th. Call 824-5142 for more information.
Last but not least, if you enjoy meditating with a group, check out the offerings at our neighborhood yoga centers: Yoga Shala on Castro, the Sanchez Street Studio (near 29th), Eureka Yoga College of India (Eureka near 20th), or the Integral Yoga Institute at 770 Dolores St.
Yoga Shala, at 1500 Castro near 25th Street, hosts a Friday class from 7:30 to 9 p.m., called, appropriately enough, "Relax Deeply with Meditation." For a complete schedule of classes, give them a call at 970-9917, or log on to Yoga Shala's web site at www.yogashala.com.
Wait a minute. That's way too stressful. Just walk on over. But first, take a deep breath and let the air out slowly.