The Footprint of Man

Sunset From the Porch

My house sits atop the end of a ridge forming the mouth of a small valley. From my back porch (elevation 475 ft.), I can look up the valley and see a small downtown and houses blooming like poppies on along the valley walls. If I look south, I see the skyline of San Jose 40 miles away - on a clear day, maybe as far Morgan Hill, 60 miles away. To my west is San Francisco Bay and the coastal mountains forming the spine of the San Francisco peninsula. The highest peaks occasionally get snow in winter. To the north, I catch a small glimpse of San Francisco's skyline 25 miles in the distance.

The view is quite nice. The cable repairmen always bid to get assignments to the pole in front of my house. One of the best views in the area according to more than one of them. Most of my visitors agree.

A View Like an Aquarium

The view reminds me of an aquarium. Each time I look, it presents a slightly different angle. At sunset, it's orange splashed with deep blue. At sunrise, the morning fog of the hills partners with the rays of the rising sun to create cathedral clouds. Sometimes the Bay sparkles. After a rain, it turns a rich brown or slate gray, depending on the amount of rain and where the runoff came from. Boats and ships pass by. Sunny weekend afternoons are a bonanza of sailboats.

There's endless animation too. The flats along the rim of the Bay cradle every type of transportation. It turns into a child's playground of tiny cars, trains, buses, ferries, and the ever-present BART. Freeways trace graceful loops across the land, bridging not only the creeks and neighborhoods, but a major earthquake fault as well. I inch south as the western mountains move north. The flats bustle like an anthill in the Kalahari - full of humanity on the move. Overhead, airplanes from Oakland, Hayward, and San Francisco zip like fireflies across the sky. Waspy helicopters drop onto the roof of a hospital a few blocks away while dragonfly water bombers sometimes spray grassfires on the uninhabited hillsides.

At night, the view becomes radiant. There are a million lights. Streetlights, houselights, headlights, even the blinking traffic lights miles away. The clean, straight lines of streets form a grid overlaid with crazy speckles of houselights and parking lots. The houses on hills march up and down the slopes and blink hello. Traffic on the flats slows and the lit airplanes become fireflies on a lazy summer evening. The coastal chill reaches inland, compelling a sweater after even the warmest summer days.

The Footprint of Man

My view has an amazing and fascinating attraction. It's a place where the footprint of man is somehow softened. But sometimes, as I look at the lights below, I notice they've blocked out the stars with their perpetual glow. I see fewer and fewer days sans brownish haze. When I squint, the cars aren't so much childlike as dangerous - beetles chewing away at the sky with their infernal exhaust.

At times like those, I see that nothing really softens the footprint of man. I understand that every one of us leaves our footprint no matter how ecologically persnickety we are. The flip side of the beautiful view is the danger it brings. The beauty man loosed into nature threatening to turn back in and feed upon itself.

I think of these things. I notice them.

But man, that view sure is pretty.

The Poobah is a featured contributor at Bring It On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Friday, May 04, 2007

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