Asked why I live in these green hills,
I smile and don’t answer; my heart is naturally calm.
Plum blossoms floating down streams vanish into mystery,
Another world, not the human realm.
Answering Commoners from the Mountains
by Li Po, translated by Wong Yoo-Chong
My green hills are the Berkeley Hills, bordering a metropolis of 7 million that rings the San Francisco Bay. These hills run parallel to the coast and fault lines, in a northwesterly direction. They have been jolted into their present form by tectonic upheaval of the earth’s crust. The famous San Andreas fault runs under the ocean beyond the Golden Gate to the west, but a mile away from these hills, the Hayward fault slices through streets and even houses.
An hour’s walk from my house is Wildcat Peak, where Nike missiles used to stand guard against Russian Migs and bombers. Also gone are the Ohlone and Miwok, the indigenous people who once populated these hills. I have heard, but not seen, the colony of Kenyan spotted hyenas the university has kept for behavioral and reproductive research, but now I ponder their fate since their funding stopped a couple months ago due to our gargantuan state budget shortfall. For forty years of walking in these hills, I’ve enjoyed the sound of crunching leaves and bird chorus . I’ve met innumerable kestrels, coyotes, foxes, and rabbits, without seeing cars or houses. Looking west from the spine of these hills I see the City high-rises; in the east are ranch homes on half-acre lots along the Calaveras fault. Looking down I often see lizards and rattle or gopher snakes crossing my path. Raising my head I see circling hawks and turkey vultures or migrating Canadian geese flying high in huge V’s. Here, in these hills, is a world in which we make room for each other.