I prefer to walk in silence, enjoying the sounds of nature.  But over the weekend I switched things up and instead of taking myself to Shoreline I walked The Dish.   Shoreline is flat and winding with multiple paths so other people are easily avoided.  The Dish is anything but.

Many moons ago, when I was a runner, The Dish didn’t really exist. The hill was part of Stanford land – still is, of course – but the only path was the pounded rut packed solid by runners who had been there before me. What I liked most about running in those hills was the solitude. All there was to hear were the calls of birds startled by rhythmic footfalls and the swoosh as I broke my way through dry grass.

I disappeared for ten years and when I returned the hill, in its own way, had disappeared, too.  A wide macadam course had replaced the pounded earth.  And now there are signs imploring runners and walkers to not disturb the wildlife and to not stray from the path.

Maybe this is good.  Some might consider it progress.

But what used to be a secret is now a gathering place.  Each day, from the sun’s first light to the moment it falls behind the Santa Cruz Mountains, the macadam paths are filled.  From a distance it resembles an anthill filled with colorful worker ants trailing up and down one after another.  Always moving.  Never straying.

The Dish is a regular thoroughfare for anyone craving a hilly workout – which seems to be most of the Bay Area.  And for the past three mornings I’ve joined them.  Not because I crave hill work, but because of the view of fog lifting from the Bay, the gleam off the Dumbarton Bridge when the sun first catches it and even the Matchbox cars scurrying up the grey ribbon that is Interstate 280.

But it’s far from the contemplative sanctuary I once loved.

It’s downright noisy.

Naturally, being the silent type, I found this disturbing.

But then I began to listen.  It was a struggle at first.  I had to surrender my irritation.  I had to cultivate a new attitude.  I had to accept that maybe, if I stopped judging and began to pay attention – ok, eavesdrop – what I heard might be poetic.  Or funny.  Or sarcastic.  Or wonderful and completely unexpected.

And it was.

But you can judge for yourself.

“Daddy, will you carry me down the dark hill? When we get there, will you take me down the dark hill?” 

“He’s trying to make her happy but she’s not getting happy and he just doesn’t understand.” 

And my favorite – the last line in a conversation between two women joggers, blond bobbed and decked out in Lululemon gear:

“They loved me, of course.  And they were lovely, as most lawyers are in a social setting.”