We start by jumping over a wall. On the other side is a path worn into the grass that the wall was intended to protect. I am excited because I haven’t been on this path before, and I am expecting something more wild than the cultivated, paved hike I know so well that leads up the side of Tong Niu Lin hill to the UFO. Initially, I feel a bit let down. The trees are straight and tall and thin and planted closely together by human hands. Stalky “underbrush” echoes the trees. It feels somewhat surreal and foreign. We pass the park’s nursery with hundred of pots of flowers waiting to be planted below. In the distance, the spherical bird sanctuary nestles into the side of the hill like an enormous pearl.
Eventually, we come to a divide in the road. To the left is a rough concrete path that leads to the park. To the right is a narrow path worn down by not many human feet. We take the road less travelled.
The underbrush is tangled and green, and catches my ankels. My first battle wound, I think proudly to myself. Soon we are engulfed by oaks and pines.
“Oaks!” I say to my husband, who leads me on this trek. I didn’t know there were oaks here. I often feel my grandfather’s presence in oak. He loved to work the stuff, built me a table of it before he died.
I am suddenly overcome with the sense that I am not in China anymore. I am in the wilderness. In spite of the sounds of traffic below, I am enraptured and wrapped in the sense that this place, any place, can be taken over by Management. Trees rule! Grass rocks! We are suddenly climbing and I have to trust that the stones will not shift beneath my feet, that the earth will hold me.
When we reach the peak of this small hill behind our house, we clammer on to the outcropping that overlooks the city. The park below looks like a model train scene with hedges, tiny trees planted in rows, miniature bushes, cars and people. Even the flock of birds that circle the park seem unreal somehow, like an animation in a movie.
We sit for a long time on the rock watching the scene below, breathing in the wind, enjoying each other. It is still and peaceful. It allows for quiet things to rise to the surface, things unsaid for too long.
Days later, I realize that more has risen to the surface than I realized. Anger appears, then cracks and flakes away like a shell covering too much tenderness. Below it is the heart of the matter, and I have no words for it.
This hill behind my home has wilderness and sanctuary. I can climb to that spot now, both with my feet and here, on this page. The climb takes me higher, so I can see more clearly the scenes below.