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The View from the Moraga Steps

I’m in a motel in Oxnard, resting up before a funeral tomorrow. My uncle Bob died. I didn’t know him well — our family has a lot of gaps in its attachments — but he led a good strong life and died with his boots on, felled by a series of strokes that began hours after he worked his last Friday at his clinic. He was a doctor — a dermatologist — and he had spent more than half a century getting up and going to work with a smile on his face.

A couple of weeks ago I climbed the Moraga stairs. Not the fancy stairs with the lovely mosaic tiles, but the prosaic eastern stairs, mere concrete steps leading up to a perch on top of the world.

I generally don’t do heights. I’m fine with planes, but on my own two legs, or in a car, heights make me queasy. No miracle happened on my climb. I stayed queasy, eyes-down, creeping to the top and then down again with my hands and arms wound round the bannisters.

“Nice view, yes?” said a dapper man striding past me.

“Yes,” I squeaked, eyes downward. But I had seen the view, when I reached the top. It was an amazing 360 view of San Francisco near sunset on a chilly day, a well-water-clear view that spread out before me across city and ocean. It was the most amazing view, and I, a San Francisco native, had never seen it before.

Really, before I looked at the place we would rent, I had never heard of Golden Gate Heights (what I think of as the “lonely goatherd” section of the Inner Sunset). I had never climbed this hill. Seen this view. Walked these steps.

I think a lot these days about how to introduce people who have never known great libraries to this experience. It’s an interesting problem. If you have never climbed those stairs or seen those heights, what are your expectations?

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