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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Place Where You Live

Air Date: Week of November 30, 2012

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Mount Tamalpais, rising half a mile from the sea across the Bay. Rosie used to rivet together a warship a month during the Second World War, but her old shipyard is now a container port and the old naval fuel depot has become a Chevron refinery. (Wong Yoo-Chong)

In collaboration with Orion magazine writer Wong Yoo-Chong shares his thoughts and feelings about the place he now calls home in the rolling green hills of Northern California.

Transcript

CURWOOD: This week we have another in the Living on Earth/Orion Magazine series “The Place Where You Live.” For more than a decade, Orion has invited readers to put their memories of home on a map and submit essays on their website. And now, we’re giving them a voice.

[MUSIC: Edward Sharpe & The Magentic Zeroes “Home” from Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes (Rough Trade Records 2009)]

CURWOOD: Our writer today was born half a world away - but for forty years he's turned his eyes to the green hills of California for solace and help.

YOO-CHONG: My name is Wong Yoo-Chong, I live in Berkeley, California. I have been working on a translation of the Lao-Tse for the past four years. And I’m about halfway done. I never come down from these hills without some insights, some epiphanies from the work on my desk. Once I leave it, I get new angles and new insights, so going up to these hills is a very crucial part of my writing.

CURWOOD: It's not just the philosophy of Lao-Tse that inspires Wong Yoo-Chong. Before he read his essay he shared a poem by the eighth century Chinese poet, Li Po titled, "Answering the Common People from the Mountains."


Winter clouds drift by to keep these grazing hills green and the reservoirs full in order to collect enough to quench the thirst of millions. In the horizon, just beyond the verdant landscape, suburbs begin again. (Wong Yoo-Chong)

YOO-CHONG: (In Chinese, then English): Asked why I live in these green hills,
I smile and do not answer; my heart is naturally calm.
Peach blossoms riding a stream vanish in mystery,
Another world, not the human realm.

[MUSIC: Nguyen Le’ “Are You Experienced” from Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix (ACT Music 2012).]

YOO-CHONG: My green hills are the Berkeley Hills. 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, but a mile away, the Hayward Fault knifes through houses and streets. It last shook in 1868.

An hour’s walk from my door is Wildcat Peak, where Nike missiles stood guard against Russian Migs and bombers. Also gone are the Ohlone and Miwok, the indigenous people who once inhabited these hills.

Walking here for forty years, I’ve enjoyed the sound of crunching leaves and bird chorus. I’ve met kestrels, crows, deer, foxes, and white-tailed rabbits. From these hills I can see the City high-rises in the western sky; in the east are ranch homes on half-acre lots along the Calaveras Fault. Looking down, I often find rattlers or gopher snakes in my path. Looking up I see circling red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures and migrating geese in huge V’s. Up in these hills is a different world.


An afternoon sun arches over San Francisco, as a blimp floats by on an NFL Sunday. The tortoise shell shaped hill in the middle is Yerba Buena Island, from which the old east span of the Bay Bridge is being replaced after a part of it collapsed in a 1998 quake. In the foreground is the silhouette of a ridge of the Berkeley Hills. (Wong Yoo-Chong)

CURWOOD: That's Wong Yoo-Chong. And we want to hear about “The Place Where You Live.” To find out how to submit your essay for the Orion Magazine/Living on Earth series, visit our website LOE dot org.

 

Links

Mr. Wong’s Original Essay in Orion Magazine’s The Place Where You Live

 

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