The Green Berkeley Hills – The Place Where You Live
Mount Tamalpais, rising half a mile from the sea across the Bay. (Photo: Wong Yoo-Chong)
Living on Earth collaborates with Orion magazine’s “Place Where You Live” essay project, this time to focus on the rolling green hills of Northern California that writer Wong Yoo-Chong now calls home and reflects on a poem by the ancient Chinese sage, Li Po.
CURWOOD: This week in honor of Earth Day, April 22nd, and to mark Poetry Month we revisit a favorite spot in the Living on Earth/Orion Magazine series “The Place Where You Live.” Orion invites readers to capture their home or favorite place and submit essays to their website, and we give them a voice.
[MUSIC: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic 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 over 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-Tzu 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-Tzu 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."
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.
CURWOOD: That's Wong Yoo-Chong. And if you want to tell us about “The Place Where You Live,” head over to our website LOE dot org.
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