Stow Away

Yesterday, Jeff and I wandered as if in a dream, just a few short blocks from our house in the Lower Haight. At the increasingly posh and polished Hayes Valley neighborhood, he stood in line at the outdoor Ritual kiosk for coffee, while I momentarily considered a beverage from a juice truck…but then passed after almost passing out from the $10 price. We let Fern clamber around on the play structure at Patricia’s Green, surrounded by affluent parents eating half scoops of ice cream that cost half a days salary. A young couple took a selfie with their cones while sitting on an adjacent bench, then began eating. At their feet, a group of hungry beggars, house sparrows, fluttered around, hopefully eyeing the waffle cones with pleading chirps. The couple ignored them…until the small end of the man’s cone fell on the ground. Triumphant, a little sparrow picked it up and flew a few feet away to enjoy a meal. The man stood up, walked over to the sparrow, picked up the end of the cone and…threw it in the trash.

Where’s your iPhone now, dude? Missed opportunity for a Cute Overload photo post to Facebook if you ask me. Let them eat cake.

Postcard of Stow Lake from the 1800s.

Don’t feed the birds. You’ll see the signs posted all over the city. Sometimes I’m in accordance, since providing a food source where there is otherwise none can mean a boost in animal populations that has no ecological support in an urban environment. However, the interplay of human activity and the species it supports is already in effect…garbage cans and rats, indoor kitchens and cockroaches, outdoor cafes and pigeons. They are here and so are we. I used to carry a small bag of millet in my purse, an offering for the little life forms that share our city streets…an opportunity to alleviate suffering, even if only one meal, even if for only a 1/4 of a day.


On Saturday, we partook in a historical tradition of feeding the wildlife. We finally found a use for all the heels of sprouted wheat bread* in our freezer…pleasing the ducks on Stow Lake.


Man made in 1893, Stow Lake was initially only supposed to be a reservoir for the rest of the park. I’m not sure how the decision to add the bridges and boat rentals came to be, but given the Victorian love for little nature outings, and a city just coming into its own, I assume a small money making venture was wisely foreseen.

Lucky for us (and for the birds), a little row boat on a sunny Saturday is one of the best excursions in GG Park.


I’m quite proud of my rowing technique, perfected from childhood. However, now that I’m a big girl…I don’t know what to do with my stems! How am I supposed to get leverage? I settled for half crossed…and half awkward.

Fern quickly amassed a fan club of American Coots.

American Coot


Please don’t call me a “Sea” Gull. There’s no such thing. I am a Western Gull, full grown.

I am a young Western Gull.

Muscovy Duck




While looking up history of Stow Lake, I discovered tales of The Ghost that haunts the shore…a young woman in white, looking for her babe that drowned in the waters. Now I want to go back at night!

*It’s not a good idea to feed bread to wildlife…especially not bread made with refined (white) flour. We chose to use bread of a lesser evil…sprouted wheat. Given that the birds at Stow Lake are fed all kinds of crap, I figured that our hippy bread would be an improvement.

Feed the birds, feed your soul.


11 thoughts on “Stow Away

  1. I recently went bird watching for the first time (in the Palo Alto Baylands, maybe you’ve been!) and have started to see birds in a new light. Once you take note of all the little differences between and within species, you begin to see them as individuals rather than as a nameless flock, and reading posts like this one resonate a lot more. Let the little guy have his ice cream cone! (I have a soft spot for sparrows)

  2. What are those I spy, short sleeves in Winter whaaaat? Actually if you took a look at me right now I’m wearing a cardy and leggings in Summer. Bah. Glad you’re shaking off the indoors and getting out there. xo Also SUPER impressed that they have lifejackets for littles on the rowboats.

  3. Mary, it often strikes me but I have to say it out loud this time: you have terrific style! I wouldn’t have looked twice at this dress on a rack, and there is it on you, unique and magnificent, particularly with the boots. Quite a match for these beautiful birds! Lucky them :o)

    1. emmanuelle, see my reply to you and milla below, but i’ve also been meaning to say to you for a while now…you write such elegant and thoughtful comments…but you don’t blog? consider me a very enthusiastic fan if you ever decide to do so. 🙂

      1. Thank you most sincerely for your generous appreciation and encouragement!

        In fact I was quite happy to be a reader/commenter of a few blogs I truly relate to… you and Milla and Rachel help my mind and heart expand to the western side of this continent, which has a strangely familiar pull on my soul – and to a world you know well, where the wild is not a faraway place, but something living both in ourselves and all around… in the birds and the trees, the hills, the water, the oak grubs.

        But I am indeed thinking of starting a blog soon, for various reasons! A bilingual one though, since I am French and live in Montréal (Quebec). It should be on blogspot and I will definitely let you know :o)

        Thanks again for sharing your thoughts (and pictures) in here, Mary.

  4. Ha! My grandmother and I would feed the fish on the pond by her house, with the “white” bread she specifically bought for the occasion. The trout someone planted in the pond (who at the time were busy making the pond very very scummy) would come up to a little stone peer and stick their trout-y heads out of the water for morsels of bread. My grandma would always shake her head at the fishermen. “Those fish probably taste like pulla (traditional white bread)!” We would feed the ducks too if they showed up, but really, that was less exciting.

    I agree with Emmanuelle, you do have very very good style. I wish there was a more style blog-y element to this here blog. A kind of Mary in her finery and natural habitat theme?

    1. milla and em…it never occurs to me to really make style a part of this blog because 1. my style is not so much representative of what i would like to wear, but more of what i can find for under 5 dollars at over-picked thrift stores and 2. I have squeamish self image issues due to growing older, weight gain, etc. THAT SAID…sometimes i do manage to pull off a good outfit, and with such rousing support from the likes of you, maybe i’ll give it a go. THANK YOU 🙂

  5. oooh girl! your hair is BEYOND in that rowing pic! farrah vibes of feathery goodness! ugh, those affluent jerks! Today I looked at a $2800. 2bd “flat” (barf) just for kicks and to see what passes as cool for a modern yuppie dwelling. oh boy….. I’m actively home hunting and it’s a bummer… xo m

    1. mindy, let’s be charlie’s angels together! and i am right there with you with the househunting…i had such a mega meltdown about it yesterday. it’s awful, we deserve better, and i will wish for miracles for us both.

  6. as amazing as this post was to read, learning about stow lake and the varied number of visitors (love the gull portrait)
    i am left with a deep impression of how foxy you look rowing that boat.


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