I live in LA with a view of the hills, but not the ones with the world-famous sign. In geological and cultural counterpoint to the Hollywood Hills, the Baldwin Hills rise abruptly from the middle of the Los Angeles basin, the product of both folding and faulting. I mention the geology because of commerce, not science: these hills are less iconic than that famous sign, but they’re quantitatively more valuable as the site of the largest urban oilfield in the nation. Across the concrete channel of Ballona Creek, I can see the signs of active extraction from my backyard: drilling platforms, bobbing pumpjacks, construction trailers with million-dollar views of the ocean. Some of the holding tanks have murals on them: a forest scene, an ocean.
Gradually, as the pumps run dry, parts of the field are given back to us as parks, financed by the oil companies. One recently renovated playground has a little derrick for kids to admire, though not to climb. Another, reclaimed for the Olympics, has a little lake and a running stream, where I’ve seen inmates put to work scrubbing the algae off the rocks under the stern eye of a white crowned night heron. Though you could walk across it and not get your knees wet, there are always a few fisherman in the evenings. If we stay here long enough, I tell myself, maybe we can reclaim the whole field; maybe the ersatz ecology will take root and turn into something else. After all, animals are already making homes inside the fence: coyotes, rabbits, and herds of feral cats in the scrub. Once we watched a red-tailed hawk perched on one of the pumpjacks, immovable as he went up and down—silent, implacable, hungry. You take what you can get.