San Francisco is my hometown. My brother Tom and his wife Karen, still live there above Golden Gate Park. Their house perches against the slope of Mount Sutro Forest. Wild animals of this urban wilderness cruise through their backyard. Parrots, skunks, opossum, and a coyote or two make their home in the dense woods. The forest is also the domain of a resilient colony of feral cats. Currently, three regulars appear at Tom’s for daily feedings: Simber, a grey shorthair, Fruit Loops, an orange tabby, and Frank, a witchy black cat of mystery.
The names change through the years but these cats, abandoned, lost, or the result of immaculate conception manage to repopulate the hillside. Their numbers seem in balance with the peculiar eco-system of this urban landscape. They are subject to disease and a natural predator. But compassion from residents on the verge of their homeland sustains them against their most formidable foe: hunger.
Recently, I visited with Tom and Karen. Being away four years gave me a fresh perspective on the city’s unique vitality. Evidently, the economic diversity from which it derived much of its character is being swallowed whole by the anaconda of ‘tech’ money. Simple math spins an ominous tale. Rents are egregiously high. Withering on the vine of attrition are the remnants of rent controls from days gone by. Real estate prices appeal only to the ‘uber’ wealthy and there is no shortage of bidders when a property appears for sale.
I am no social scientist. As an outsider, an expat of urban living, I resist the temptation to judge the trajectory of its future. There are already enough gloomy commentaries on its declining livability. And, the invasion of extraordinary capital is but one issue in a long line of urban problems the city must solve. Homelessness comes immediately to mind. And population density, clotted by cars that makes parking seem like a perpetual game of musical chairs, is another.
The enormity of San Francisco’s challenges are matched, if not surpassed, by its physical beauty. These days I am strictly a tourist. We spent time sight seeing, an activity that the city accomodates quite well. The pride of my brother and sister was palpable. We strolled next to the sea wall at Ocean Beach and marveled at the pristine sand cleaned by civic decree. On another blue bird day, Tom and I sat on a bench gazing at the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge.
I won’t be around to see how the city leaders adapt to all the predatory money flooding their tax coffers. Thus far, the bounty creates more problems than it solves. Time will tell if it’s sustainable.
Meanwhile, up on the hillside of the Sutro Forest, the visitors to my brother’s cat hostel make a difference in the lives of the residents. They persist in an environment that is harsh and cruel. Their intrinsic value can’t be quantified, hoarded, or spent. They matter, though, and will endure, because they bring out what is best in others.
PS: The results from my first cycle on the new treatments are in and can be viewed in The Drill.