West Marin County

West Marin

June in the San Francisco Bay Area marks my family regularly heading West — from our already very westerly home in quasi-urban Berkeley, over to the wildernesses of Marin County, where we hike and bike in the exquisite, dramatic protected spaces that constitute 80% of Marin’s lands, from Muir Woods to Mount Tamalpais to coastal Point Reyes. “Nature,” protean and wordless, awaits us just to the sides of our trails; though as my young son likes to point out, like some kind of 50-pound Buddhist guru: “Nature is everything.”

In her vastly imaginative, yet intimacy-laden poetry collection, Cascadia, Brenda Hillman traverses this borderland between the state of California — its myriad geologies, topographies, histories, ecologies — and the landscapes of the human body, psyche, and metaphor. At its heart is a most basic, profound question of poetry: How can language describe experiences that are beyond language? “Wood’s Edge,” a poem from Cascadia that makes me think of Marin wilderness as it is actually felt, is one tensile, heightened answer:


Infinity lifted:
a gasp of emeralds.

I thought I felt
the tall night trees
between them,

no exactitude,
a wait not even
known yet.

I held my violet up;
no smell.
It made a signal squeak
inside, bats,

lisps of pride;

ah, their little things,
their breath…


Read the entire poem on the website for the Academy of American Poets.