Aside from the sky above and the earth under foot, the essential fact in our lives is San Francisco Bay, whether we live in the North Bay, East Bay, South Bay or the city. But the bay is so big and sprawling that it’s nearly impossible to take all of it in.
The only real way to engage with the bay is by seizing one part of it and getting to know it. For me, that part is Heron’s Head Park on the edge of the Hunter’s Point/BayView community in San Francisco.
Over the last few years, it has become a popular destination for locals and tourists who love the open air and worry about rising ocean levels, climate change and the erosion of the coastline. Still, the park is largely unknown. I’ve ambled along the Heron’s Head jetty until I was surrounded on three sides by water and treated to spectacular views of the city’s skyscrapers, Oakland across the bay, Twin Peaks in one direction and Mt. Diablo in another. I’ve heard the cries of gulls and the sounds of waves breaking on the shore. (The Heron Head jetty is said to resemble the head of a heron when viewed from above.)
The park boasts an EcoCenter with staff members who provide environmental education, workshops and public outreach. It has a living roof, a rainwater harvesting and reuse system and solar energy. Every first Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon, volunteers are invited to weed, water, prune and remove trash.
In collaboration with the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the center provides tools, drinking water and snacks. I first learned about Heron’s Head by talking to Jane Wolff and reading her new book, “Bay Lexicon,” a kind of love letter to the bay. For years, Wolff worked at the Exploratorium. She now teaches “upstream,” as she calls it, at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. The bay is, she says, “my old stomping grounds.”
What’s cool about Heron’s Head Park, Wolff explains, is that it belongs to a “hybrid ecology,” where nature and culture, land and water have created a unique environment. Wolff’s “Bay Lexicon” is designed for walkers and armchair explorers. Take it with you on your travels around the bay, and as you wander around Heron’s Head, a sanctuary for our stressed out society.—J.R.