Inside the Climbing Tree
Julius Kahn Playgroud, The Presidio
Friday morning


For most of my life, my world has been bound on one side by Laurel Village and on the other by the Presidio. I was born in Children’s Hospital, and was brought to my first home at Laurel and Clay, followed a few years later by a house in Jordan Park. College, a year in Paris, and a few Spartan years on Potrero Hill were the only times I haven’t lived over here. Sometimes I think this is freakishly strange, like an urban legend about “the girl who never left”. People are aghast when I confess that I’m a fourth-generation San Franciscan, and that yes, I have spent most of my life in the same neighborhood.

Even in my own family I’m the only one left. My sister departed for New York so long ago I can’t even remember, while my parents departed for the heat of the Napa Valley a few years after that. I’m the only one who’s stayed on. Sometimes I worry about this, that I’m missing out on things by staying put. But who is to say that these same things must be found elsewhere, rather than find them when they come and knock on your own door?

One definition of home is “a place where something began and flourished.” I began here, and I’m just starting to flourish here too. I suppose I’ve never understood why people always think they need to leave in order to find what they’re looking for. What could compare with being here?

Other places swelter, freeze, suck you dry, or bore you with the monotony of flat landscapes. In New York the buildings come in, block your sight, bury you in their canyons so much that I get nervous, dizzy even. Here, there are hilltops and vistas, trees and dirt, sea and sky, and all just minutes from my home. When I’m away I crave this – the perspective, the space, the breathability. No one has air the way that we have air, nor quiet spaces.

There is an unmarked path between Presidio boulevard and Lover’s Lane that cuts into a cathedral of eucalyptus trees. Lush and primeval, it gets bright yellow sassafras in the spring, and a ground cover of pinkish-brown curving eucalyptus leaves in the fall. Sometimes it’s so quiet that I wonder if anyone else knows about it. The sun comes slanted through the trees and with a breeze you can smell the ocean.

When I walk by Julius Khan Playground I always have to smile at the Climbing Tree – the second cypress nearest the playground. We used to climb it as kids, all the way up to the top branches where us girls would tell stories and did who knows what. This was where we grew up: over the wall, up the tree, across the field. We tripped through sheets of eucalyptus bark and filled our lungs with misty air, listening for foghorns and the impending 5 o’clock canon that marked the end of the day for the military of the Presidio.

I returned to Laurel Heights because the apartment I’d found was bigger yet affordable, and far more safe. The bus routes were consistent and fast, the grocery stores were closer, and within a few years I realized I no longer needed a car to do whatever I needed to do around town. Everything is familiar to me here, but even my memories get a little lost sometimes. The canon has gone now, there’s hurricane fencing all around the playground, and kids are never left unattended in a park any more. The Laurel Village shops I know so well are changing all the time too – from bakeries to beauty shops, Zim burgers gourmet delis – even Miz Brown’s famous Mickey Mouse pancakes have given way to a fancy health food store. I don’t like being nostalgic about a place because that’s what everything is meant to do: change. But I do miss some of the things I used to know in this little pocket of the city.

Maybe some day everything in my life will change and I won’t live here any more – Laurel Heights, or San Francisco at all. Maybe this is just my time to call this place home. Any true San Franciscan knows how lucky they are to live here at all; I’m lucky enough to be able to measure my own life against the life of my neighborhood. It’s small and sweet, but for now it’s a place to begin and flourish.


You can see the rest of Annie’s photo shoot here.

Annie’s blog is Poetic & Chic (

Her online design store is Sourdough (



  1. Dawn
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Beautifully written Annie.

  2. Posted January 22, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Annie, this essay gave me chills. What a beautiful piece.

  3. Posted January 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Lovely post, beautiful photo…and now I want to go back to Napa because you mentioned it!

  4. vicki
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Annie! How perfectly you’ve described the city. (I won’t lie, I have tears in my eyes.)

    Having grown up in the military, I find myself wishing my father had been stationed at the Presidio — I might have met you on the climbing tree! (I well remember 5 o’clock cannons.)

  5. Posted January 22, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful post. I love the glimpse into your neighborhood, and your life. SF is also the city of my birth. Aren’t we so lucky to be called natives?

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