• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Green Berkeley Hills – The Place Where You Live

Air Date: Week of

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."

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. (Photo: 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.

An afternoon sun arches over San Francisco. The tortoise shell shaped hill in the middle is Yerba Buena Island; in the foreground is the silhouette of a ridge of the Berkeley Hills. (Photo: Wong Yoo-Chong)

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.



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


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth