Summer is in its waning weeks, the sun sets earlier and earlier, and Elul is now here. My family and I just came back from our annual summer vacation and this year's destination was San Francisco. I have visited the Bay Area more than 13 times in my life (I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not exactly sure how many times I have traveled there and would need to examine my old diaries, photographs and ephemera to determine this).

My last trip to SF was in 2004, coinciding with Shavuot. My aunt Miriam was in poor health at this point, and I went only with my younger daughter. After my aunt passed in January 2005, I took a lengthy break from this fair west coast city. But we wanted to go to see some of my cousins on both sides of my family, and my husband and I realized that our two daughters had but the sketchiest of memories. Thus a trip to SF was planned.

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We did a lot of touristy things: rides on cable cars (no other American city boasts these); walking and driving down Lombard Street, a one-block stretch of which is the world's crookedest street. We toured the island of Alcatraz, best known for being the toughest maximum security penitentiary in the United States. We strolled along Haight Street and took in the remnants of the hippy heyday (and I selfied by the Grateful Dead house on nearby Ashbury Street). We found the "Full House" house, the abode featured in the 1980s-1990s hit TV show, and my daughters were so excited. We drove across the Bay Bridge with my cousin Wendy and visited Berkeley, including a visit to University of California at Berkeley. (We happened to be there during Clubs Day and the main campus area was swamped with eager students.) We visited the pretty Golden Gate Park with my other cousins Robert and his son Daniel.


SF is not a particularly Jewish city although there is the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and a few lovely older synagogues. And the ultra-modern architecture of the "CJM" left me cold. However, the most spiritual experience I had during this vacation was actually beyond the city limits, in the celebrated Muir Woods.

Muir Woods is known for its dense concentration of huge skyward redwood trees. It is a lovely place of natural beauty, and part of the National Parks Service. And while walking gingerly along the Hillside Trail, an elevated section of the parkland, I heard an ethereal sound. I stopped in my tracks: what was that? Then I noticed leaves all the way at the top of the trees, swaying with power. Then I felt a bit of coolness on my cheeks.

The combination of atypical sound, visuals, cool breezes and the earthy aromas of trees and other plants, caught me somewhat off guard. It was just so wonderful and I felt transported. It was something I don't experience in the urban arena, not even in lovely botanic gardens. I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt this amazing feeling. For lack of better words, it was a truly spiritual experience for me. Nature and spirit merged.

I davened mincha right then and there, with a special appreciation for nature and the world in general, a very positive realization. This was without a doubt a special time and feeling for me, and the highlight of my vacation. And writing this essay, a few days after this occurred, I can conjure up some aspects of the total experience, but not all of it. But that's okay. The moment existed, and that's what counts.

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