The Lovely and Violent Hills

Every once in a while, the mysterious yet not mythical wife and I take some much-needed time away from our workplaces in the San Francisco Bay Area to see the sites down SoCal way. When time permits, rather than take the fiercely dull albeit quicker I-5 freeway, we opt for the more coastal US 101. The 101 primarily follows the trail left by Spanish Franciscans during the late 1700s and early 1800s as they established twenty-one missions stretching from San Diego to Solano, all of which still stand in some fashion.


As the 101 enters the lower reaches of central California, it goes through a lengthy stretch of gentle hills dotted or covered in oak trees with grasses and occasionally flowers underneath. In a few locations, man has unobtrusively made his presence felt with the occasional vineyard or orchard. Still, for the most part, everything is how nature has arranged the terrain. The area is too lumpy for much in the way of road construction, and there are more suitable spots for people to build not that far away. Thus, development remains sparse. The hills are beautiful, peaceful, and pastoral.

They are also utterly deceiving.

The gently rolling hills, their surface worn to steep yet smooth roundness by millennia of rain and growth, thoroughly hide how whenever one travels through them, one does so atop a ticking bomb. The San Andreas and ancillary earthquake faults lie beneath, their convulsive thrusting over countless years having formed the scarps and protrusions that we now see in more gently sloped, innocent form. It is not a question of if the next great earthquake will strike this land, or north or south of here, but rather when, a question science answers with a supremely confident shrug. Any structure hoping to survive the San Andreas clearing its throat must be built upon and anchored to a solid foundation that remains in place even as the structure it supports has sufficient flexibility to enable the passing through of energy expended whenever tectonic plates throw a temper tantrum. Yet even with this, there is no possible preparation for when the earth forcibly reminds us we are not in charge of the land.


While there are obvious spiritual applications here, to wit:

There are temporal applications as well involving all facets of life.

While it is true we, individually and collectively, must prepare for the unexpected, we can also allow ourselves the luxury of enjoying that within life which is enjoyable. In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon’s weary commentary on life, he noted:

So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from Him? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please Him.

The following sentence is noticeable:

But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless — like chasing the wind.

I’d say this is a Scriptural passage worth painting in every federal government office’s halls and meeting rooms, but since these people believe they are little gods, it most likely wouldn’t modify their behavior.

Once there are proper preparations for the unknown yet inevitable, there is healing in the hills’ beauty. The moment one adapts his or her thinking to what the hills are, not what one wishes the hills to be, clarity ensues.

Clarity; seeing what is and responding accordingly in lieu of acting based on preferred reality, is a sadly rare commodity these days. Humanity has done an excellent job of convincing itself its perception and fantasy of being who or what one “feels” they are is reality. Self-identification has become sacrosanct. Woe be unto anyone who tells another they are not who they think they are, especially in politics. We are a nation filled with tchotchke Ozymandias wannabes, playground movers and shakers utterly unaware the real earthshaker lays beneath its benign disguise, waiting for a time of its own it will choose to reveal its fearsome power.


Man’s work melts and crumbles in nature’s crucible. Nature fades and fails in God’s hands. God’s nail-pierced hands hold us if we let Him. The lovely and violent hills are both comfort and warning. May we all respond accordingly.


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