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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

some days you can see the Farallones

On clear fall and winter days in the East Bay you can hike up the hills and see the Farallon Islands rising like stone giants over the Golden Gate bridge.

The Farallones lie 27 miles off the coast and are shrouded for most of the year in a thick fog and marine layer. It's a reward, then, hiking up the steep East Bay hills through eucalyptus groves, buzzed by flitting jays and juncos, to arrive, at last, at a view of the entire Bay extending into the Pacific. And sometimes there, just on the horizon, to see the stone pyramids of the Farallones matching in shape Mt. Tamalpais, the Twin Peaks of San Francisco, and the human-made towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and the TransAmerica Pyramid...

Site of the Egg War and shipwrecks and seal hunting, the Farallones, for as remote and pure as they seem, have only lately returned to their quieter natural state: home to pinnipeds, petrels, puffins, auklets and murres, not to mention being a natural breeding grounds of the Great White Shark and a waypoint for whales on their journey past Point Reyes to the north.

I often take the steep hike to take in that view...up out of the backyards of Berkeley. And when it's clear, it's like a gift.

The whole Bay, the whole of the cities of the East Bay are spread out below. The streets and cars and people resemble a natural version of what you feel in New York City, when you get to the top of the Empire State and think hey, I've been there, and there, and there and that corner too.

It occurs to me that the Farallones are in some ways like our political ideals. They are out there, on the horizon, far beyond where we live and work and play. Some days we can see them; most others, reluctantly, we can't. Once in awhile, however, we climb a familiar hill and look out. And from that vantage we take in, in one glance, both our imperfect city, full of traffic and bustle and commerce, and the islands, their natural counterparts, filled with the organic flux of cormorants flexing and fishing and the brashness of the society of seals.

Like the Farallones, which will remain, at least in the human time frame, just on the very horizon of San Francisco Bay, we never truly attain our ideals. Once in awhile, when the weather is right, we can look out at them, we can consider their perfection. But then, inevitably, we turn and return to our imperfect city. We move once again through its people, its harsh realities, its visceral humanity.

Our task, in the end, was not to take the city to the Farallones but instead to take that golden vision and burn it into our work and our days and our living.