SHORT #22: The Mountain and a Silicon Valley Fortress
roots deep, branches out, that's what the forest is about
This story marks the 1 year anniversary of The Possible City! Thanks to everyone who has subscribed. I especially want to give a shout out to the yearly subscribers and founding members. Thank you for trusting and supporting this project. As you know, everyone here gets the same content whether you can pay or not, but the paid subscriptions are what keeps it going (because it means I can turn down other paid work, and dedicate more time to The Possible City). The goal going forward this second year, is to publish the illustrated shorts every fortnight, with longer essays filling in the gaps now and then. There are some other surprises in the works, too, which you will see over the course of the coming year.
Today’s edition is a slight departure. Most of the illustration work here is done at my desk with pen and paper, and then colored digitally. Often these drawings are based on photographs I’ve taken, or a memory, or a pencil sketch done in the field. This one was done in the mountain, with a little pocket watercolor set. The process was enjoyable (water colors usually are) and it gave me time to think about how different this ‘mountain office’ is from my studio. And then again, how radically different both of these places are from my old office in Silicon Valley!
So thanks again for being here, and enjoy the story…
Walking west, away from the wide streets and toward the cozy rustling of leaves in the mountain, we pass a few urban farms and orchards. After entering the Forest, it takes thirty minutes more of walking to reach the ridge. Then, crossing over that ridge, everything changes.
Save for the birds — or perhaps an old man blasting 80’s Korean Trot music — silence reigns here. On this perch just beyond the edge of the city, you gaze into the lower valleys that hold life and water deep in the soil and rock.
Anyone who visits this part of the mountain regularly during the course of a year will note how this spot is the coolest place in the city during summer, and likewise, the warmest place in winter. The Forest knows how to moderate extremes of heat and cool. She knows how to handle the heavy rain and wind. In general, she also knows how and when to conserve, and also, how and when to give back.
Years ago when I worked in an office cubicle in Silicon Valley, we had a different view of the mountains. It was a view from within a 20-floor glass and metal tower. I remember the week one summer, when temperatures were over 110F for several days. From this tower, you could see the world baking around you in the expanse of black asphalt, but the air conditioning kept all of us inside from having to sweat. So we stayed at the office as often as we could. We drank soda and the occasional cocktail from the Russian programmer, and we ordered Chinese takeout. We did that until one day, when the rolling blackouts came and within hours, the offices became uninhabitable. At this point, some of us went and sat in our cars with the climate control turned on. I ran for the shade of a tree by the river which was, at least, cool enough not to be miserable.
Sitting there, I thought of how that office tower was not designed to respect the balance, to be permeable, or to give back to the landscape around it. It was designed as a ‘fortress’ against whatever the environment threw at it. But as any master of any decent fortress knows, this tactic only works up to a point. I found that point, on the sweltering days when the climate control failed, and a river and a few trees suddenly became a safe haven.
Unlike the office tower, the Forest is strategically permeable to the elements in ways that benefit the living beings within her. She lives by the idea—one quite foreign to most skyscrapers—that giving to other lifeforms is not a loss, but in fact a gift to herself. She embodies a formula of reciprocity, being a great facilitator of the balance required for life and survival.
“If only their buildings could know the importance of putting their roots deep in the earth, and branches spread out above,” says the Forest. “Then they would know how to live together, with the endless bounty of nature.”
These Autumn days, I tend to prefer this office with no walls, which requires a half hour walk up the mountain.
Come Winter, I will test that theory of preference again.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this story, now would be a great time to share it with someone else who might enjoy it too… don’t you think so?
For those who are not yet subscribed to get these hand-crafted fortnightly stories sent to your inbox, you can do that below. Both free and paid subscriptions get you the same content. However, keep in mind it’ s just me out here trying to make this happen (and often times Suhee, who puts up with editing when she has the time). Becoming a paid subscriber helps me dedicate more time to this, which in theory, should make it both better and more frequent. Thank you.
The Possible City is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.