I hear commuter trains in the morning before I hear the birds. Only habit drowns out the thrum of the freeway, and freight trains running along the coast interrupt my sleep. To leave my neighborhood I cross four-lane streets or walk under the overpass of Highway 24.
From the vantage of a red-tailed hawk on a lazing current, it’s beautiful here, shining worlds of water and green. From east to west, a parenthesis of hills cup the flatlands where I live, streets and freeways like silent gray ribbons woven amid rooftops and treetops and fields, the flats sloping toward tidal marshes and the shipping docks along the Bay. The peninsula beyond wears the San Francisco jewel in its crown, and ends where its beaches meet the breakers of the misty-fogged Pacific.
From down here on my little wedge of the built environment, though, it’s not easy to know where I am. Temescal Creek, one of forty creeks that flow down from the hills, runs buried underground. The willow groves that grew beside the creek and where Ohlone villages prospered lie under concrete in the perpetual shadow of an overpass. The live-oak forests of the flats and giant sequoias of the hills are gone.
Still, it’s the kind of place where a dozen Anna’s hummingbirds might dart through my garden on any given day. Where California towhees nest in back yards every spring. Where native plants are coming back thanks to non-native gardeners. Where if you totaled up the acreage given to agriculture in our 25-plus square blocks, we’d be a decent little farm, with backyard chickens and front yard artichokes, raised beds everywhere leafed out in lettuce, chard and beans, and an orchard’s worth at least of apples, lemons, plums. Where gift bags of tomatoes, herbs, zucchini and jam appear on neighbors’ porches every summer. Where gardens and generosity help me think we humans are growing wiser, making a start on something like amends.