Know Your Place
It was two hours before the warm sun finally rose above the Berkeley Hills. It is my habit when visiting our daughter in the Bay Area to rise about dawn (It helps to have lingering Eastern Time in the blood.), brew a strong pot of Peet’s coffee (A Berkeley original.) and stroll around the funky neighborhoods on the slopes above the
As I sat quietly in solitude, I felt a little like I was perched on one of my favorite rocks on Moose Hill. At the edge of the flat park the slope drops away steeply to the west. Trees growing from the hillside – thus putting their tops closer to eye level – attracted a good variety of birds that came by as I sat, ate and daydreamed. I found it a little hard to believe that some of them weren’t coming by just to see me.
Many of the birds were familiar, but different. There were juncos, phoebes, chickadees, creepers and towhees. There were also some sparrows and tiny kinglet-like birds. Since I tried to pack light for this trip, I didn’t have my binoculars or field guide. So, while I felt sure some of the species I was seeing, like the robins, were the same as back East, I knew others, like the towhees and chickadees were different species even if their behavior seemed much like that of those back home. The hummingbirds of
On this dry mid-August morning, the birds were mostly quiet. There may have been a soft call or chirp or even the occasional scold, but no songs. Summer was drawing to a close.
Even though it was a summer Sunday in a college town, I was surprised at how quiet it was.
One thing I like to do when I travel is to lose myself in a good book, preferably one that is connected – even if only peripherally – to the place I’m visiting. Somehow I got it in my head that I wanted to read Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums while I was recovering from my surgery. Maybe it was a
I often find myself amazed at how writers in the post-war years like Jack Kerouac and Edward Abbey foresaw bad things happening in our society and wonder how they would feel today if they could see their worst nightmares realized ten times over. I love the idea that a book like Dharma Bums could launch a generation of “rucksack revolutionaries,” and hope that at least a few of them didn’t wind up driving SUVs to their McMansions in the suburbs.
The main character in Dharma Bums is Japhy Ryder. It turns out that Ryder, like many of the characters in Kerouac’s books, is based on a real person: the poet, Asian scholar, essayist and environmental activist Gary Snyder. (I even found a typo (?) where Kerouac refers to Japhy as
He teaches that people should learn to know and love the place where they live, and we should live in it without subduing it. We should learn its geology, weather, plants, animals, and history. We should think about how people can live in a place and make it their own without destroying it. We need to understand that humans are a part of nature and that humans inhabited and adapted to the places we live long before any of our non-North American ancestors arrived and that those people had ancient biological and mystical connections to our lands that go back for millennia. We should try to feel, appreciate and respect those connections in the ways we live today.
Most of Snyder’s writings that I had were from the 60’s and 70’s. Many of his contemporaries didn’t make it to the Twenty-first Century, but Snyder did, and I wondered how he feels about how things are going today.
A few days later, as we flew east, leaving our carbon footprints along the way, I looked forward to a walk on Moose Hill. I was hoping thoughts I had on a stone wall in