Walking along wider two-lane streets, I feel like I’m on a movie set. This land is flat flat flat; a 1.5% grade over pipes is a daunting obstacle on my bike ride home. Winter is surprisingly sunny, but when the sky is bright, blue, clear, it’s so crisp that it’s terrifying in its infinity. The western neighborhoods’ three-story houses, backed by nothing — no buildings, no trees, no mountains, no smog, no planes, no crickets — these houses clearly are plywood facades, erected to con me into thinking this world is real. If I were brave enough to touch one it would break away, topple off a ledge, betraying that I am standing on the edge of the precolumbian cubic world; rappelling down the face will not take me anywhere new.
School is comforting. The lake soothingly beckons escape. Its limitless expanse helps me trick myself into thinking I am on a coast, just another beach, just another trail I can run down, scull aloft, and trample through the sand, pushing off the packed sediment and stroking to adventure, reliably out there, somewhere, confident that it waits for me, sight unseen.
While I do not know where I will be in three years, walking down Ashland slaps me with the realization that I cannot be here. I can’t stay forever in a place where I have to drive hours and hours to find one puny hill masquerading as a proper mountain bike trail, or where dirt paths halfheartedly peppered with deciduous trees pose as “hikes.”
One of the many beautiful things about the Bay Area, and Oakland in particular, is its easy conflation of city, suburb, forest, mountain, and beach. When I lived in Oakland, I could take my dog on a leisurely five-mile hike through city streets up from sea level to 400 above and return home within two hours. I was a ten-minute drive from the San Francisco financial district, and an eight-minute drive from this:
and thirty from this:
and my childhood home was in the bosom of this:
And San Francisco, that cosmopolitan city, also is this:
Even hanging out in the park is different here. After all, what’s a park without hills to roll down? Just soulless plastic structures and no jungle gym or Blue Tires. And when you’re exhausted from the big hill, at least you can relive a shadow of its thrill by gently bowling yourself over a tiny ridge, the inferior likes of which you still can’t even find in Illinois:
Not-California does have some perks, of course. I do love the snow, and the cold, and the autumn, and pretty much everything, except the hopeless flat. Then again, Moraga can have autumn, too:
(even if that was taken one March).
And although I do love the snow, and still want to have a Calvin and Hobbes fight and build a snowman and an igloo, I can’t shake the feeling that snow really is meant to accentuate something like this:
Frankly, it’s just a little hard to fall in love with the midwest when your high school’s cross country team (crazies) had this for its home course:
So, today, because I wanted to go for a hike through the snow, and all I have is flat, endless, soulless tundra, I sing to you, dear California, and hope I will roam your juxtaposed cityforests soon.
P.S. For great shots of beautiful Tahoe, beautiful snow, beautiful clothes, and a beautiful woman, please check out my friend Lucy’s blog, here.