Oakland. The city of my birth. The city where my daughter was born. The city where my mother was born. Her mother was born one city over in Berkeley. If any place is really my “home” on this planet, this must be it. And yet, I’ve struggled with this place. I leave it quickly and come back only under duress. My friends point out that I seem to be happy here, and they wonder why I’m so anxious to go. It’s not hard to explain. There’s too much history. And the Bay Area isn’t the place I grew up any more, anyway, I tell them. It’s changed.

But now I’m back.


About a year ago I was drawn down here from Washington state by a combination of events that would have made a fantastic mythic tale. There were coyotes involved, and then eagles, and finally hummingbirds. There were mountains in the tale, including one scary mountain in particular that white men call Devil. There was a family mystery and a coming of age. While I was here my life was transformed. Ideas I’d dreamed up about work and education became real. I was invited to speak in Paris! And then I left here with the tale unfinished.

I was warned that I’d have to come back.

I really didn’t want to.

Maker Faire San Francisco 2012I am an unabashed evangelist of a certain sort of optimism that says that we can create a better world for ourselves and our children by relocalizing ourselves. We need to do more things in community and rely less on the outside world. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have trade, or that any group of people needs to be self-sufficient. There’s a difference between thinking that you can do it all on your own and realizing that you can do a lot more of it close to home.

I believe that we can build this better world through acts of kindness, through acts of permaculture, and through acts of creative making. I believe that we can leverage the power of tools that were created through thoughtless growth and consumerism to change our society’s focus to a kind of degrowth and realistic ecological thinking. There are many places where communities who think like me can be found. Detroit. Tel Aviv. Seattle. London. Paris. But Oakland is the the place where my atoms first came together, where my cells first split, where I first stuck my hands in the dirt and cried, “Dirty! Wash me, Daddy!!”

Alas, no one would have expected me to grow up and join a CSA where part of the commitment was 8 hours a month of farm work, but I did. And now I’m sitting in a friend’s living room realizing that I do have a lot of work to do here.

This community is vibrant. From the depths of the ghetto new paths are are being built. From the midst of a city with gun problems, gang violence and a stark gap between the rich and the poor, the immigrants and the 5th generation mothers and fathers of all colors are rising up. And I realize, I should come to grips with my history or let it go, roll up my sleeves and do what’s needed right here at home.

About Sterling

When Sterling was 3 years old, her parents packed everything they owned into storage, put a roof rack on their ‘66 VW Bug and spent three months driving with her across the US and Canada. She’s been a nomad ever since. She’s lived in El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada, England, Scotland, Israel and several states in the US. Every place is a new spirit to get acquainted with, fall in love with, or struggle with. Her path within Druidry is a spiritual dance of learning the relationships of all the people, human and otherwise, in the context of place. She has a collection of short stories, The Imaginary City and Other Places, which you can read on Kindle or in paperback.

  • Niki Whiting

    Oakland! I lived in Oakland for 4 years (and Berkeley for 2). My son was born there. It’s an amazing, problematic, vibrant, dirty city. Are you hinting that you may moving back? I too struggle with this pull to my hometown. I always expected to go back and teach there, be involved with community music, maybe run for local office. I look forward to reading as this unfolds.

    (Also, next time you’re in Seattle, let me know and I’ll see if I can come up – and we could meet! In real life!)

    • Sterling

      Well, I’m in Oakland/Berkeley for now (working/living). I never know how long “now” is going to be. I do think that I’ll be back up in Seattle for a few days in April, though. I’ll let you know before I hop on that bus. ;)

  • Kilmrnock

    I too understand having a sense of place . i live where my family has lived for almost three hundred years , my family has deep roots here on Delmarva, Mid Atlantic East Coast US . This area has a more rural southern feel to it . My family more comes from southern delmarva , also known as Eastern Shore Md. Diffinatly more southern in feel and inhabited most by Celtic decendants .Altho i was raised in northern Delaware , everyone i grew up around has a Eastern Shore mentality , as do i .I peresonaly have deep ties and a strong familiarity with this place . We also have a southern accent and a down home mentality . Getting back to your origonal point i deffinatly feel this land , know this is where i belong .

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