My family’s been on the same San Francisco hill for the last one hundred years. Emigrating from Greece in the 1910s and 1920s, my great-grandparents built the first house on the block (48th Avenue then was a sand dune) and ran restaurants on the road that wraps around the hill and connects the Outer Richmond to Ocean Beach. My Yiayia raised her family a block away, the home in which my mother was raised. Standing in front of her house, looking down 47th, you see the city sweep out down the peninsula – Golden Gate park interrupting rows of houses ending at the beach and ocean.
I’m from Kentucky, a landlocked state known for its rolling hills. I now live in southeast Michigan, an area that is as boggy and flat as it is beautiful.
Seven months into my first year of medical school, spring break was not only a much-needed change of pace but also a change in landscape. Visiting San Francisco for the week, I didn’t stream any lectures, review flashcards or localize hypothetical lesions. But I did explore San Francisco. It meant familiar walks: through Sutro Park, down past the Cliff House, and then the flat, windy walk along the beach. Or along the coastal trail below Legion of Honor, where you turn a corner and there’s the Golden Gate Bridge spanning the entrance to the bay. I know these routes well and they are for reflection and quiet appreciation.
Some of the exploration is new. One afternoon I take a bus, and then the metro, before climbing a hill to Corona Heights Park. Although there is less wildlife, navigating the subways is also a lesson in topography. It begins with a descent and ends with a climb up and out. Breezes are produced mechanically and carry the smell of oil and other things of a city. I read in the park and wrote a bit.
In Ann Arbor I often take walks. I notice the slight hills and admire houses in Kerrytown and the west side of the city. I let my mind wander between lectures, or in the evenings when I’m done for the day. I’ll walk in all sorts of weather – I’ve made good use of my coat this winter. Ann Arbor is full of reminders of the medical school. There’s the corner where I did tag days for Galens, right by the State Theater. The hospital, massive and lit up at night, can be seen from much of my walk to the Arb and is a sometimes exciting, sometimes intimidating reminder of rotations to come.
For me, the landscape of San Francisco is tied to family. In the mornings, instead of an alarm clock, I wake to fog horns and the creak of the my grandmother moving around the house. My great-grandmother died a couple years ago (at 102!), but we still bake her cookies and tell her stories. I visit her house and weed her sandy backyard.
This landscape grounds me because it is a reminder of where I come from – my family, as well as who I am without quizzes, pre-clinical training, or medical ambition. I can read books and my mind doesn’t wander to things I need to get done. I can walk without a timeframe.
Spring break is over and M1s have finished Neurology. The days are getting longer and yesterday it snowed as the sun set and I found a little of the peace I had over spring break. Even though my family isn’t here and I can’t hear the ocean, the Arb was quiet and I noticed flowers beginning to spring up.