Albany Hill Hundreds of Years Ago

In California’s past thousands of native people in hundreds of different groups lived here (and their descendants still live here). The landscapes were different. Tule elk and pronghorn antelope, for instance, grazed in huge herds on native grasslands and grizzly bears roamed hills and valleys.

Laura Cunningham, an artist and naturalist trained in biology and paleontology, spent years studying and painting forgotten landscapes of California, publishing many of them in a book, A State of Change (Heyday 2010).

The following are reproductions of her art work showing how the area around Albany Hill may have looked hundreds of years ago.

San Francisco Bay November Sunset 400 years ago. Oil on cotton rag paper, 9 x 13 inches, 1998.
Albany Hill, summer
Clouds Over Bay 200 years ago. Oil on cotton rag paper, 9.5 x 9 inches, 1999.
Mid December Sunset at the Golden Gate 300 years ago. Oil on cotton rag paper, 7 x 10 inches, 1999.
El Cerrito Grizzlies 500 years ago. Oil on cotton rag paper, 7.5 x 8 inches, 2005.


East Bay Hills
Oil on cotton rag paper, 7 x 21 inches, 1998
From the East Bay Hills a thousand years ago, Albany Hill can be seen, as well as the Golden Gate across San Francisco Bay. Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) fly over purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra). Early observers noted how the hills around the Bay lacked trees in most areas, and was a vast open grassy land.

More of Laura’s art work


wild cucumber tendrils twining into oak tree; E side Albany Hill
Wild cucumber vine on coast live oak

Something is reaching
Something is grasping
Oh, sadness
That is my madness
We cannot know what is not corporeal
We spin in circles
Trying to guess
But it is only an outline or a fuzzy shape
The reality may beg to differ
And our conception is shattered
Blown apart
Scattered to the wind
Stomped on
But that kernel of intuition keeps us going
It spawns hope, creativity, happiness, action
Yes, it may be smothered in time
But it will be replaced by another
Because without dreams we are dull, depressed, lifeless

-Margot Cunningham


Margot on Albany Hill

I could go north, that might be fun

Or I could go south into the wind

Perhaps east into the heat

Or maybe west into the fog

All directions seem good

They all interest me

Or I could just sit still and ponder

Let the directions flow by me, through me, over me, under me

The directions will always be there

I will wait until I know which direction I want to go

-Margot Cunningham


Half-empty or half-full?

sun cups blooming near rocks in NE meadowAlbany Hill
sun cups blooming

Sadness is in the sun cup shaded by weeds

the elderberry tree draped in cape ivy

the coast live oak strangled by Algerian ivy

the sagebrush shaded by eucalyptus

the French broom marching over the meadow

the trail overgrown with poison oak and other plants

the numbered days of the mules ears and poppies blooming in a vacant lot

ivy growing up mature oaks
ivy growing up oaks

Happiness is in the sun cup continuing to bloom despite the weeds around it

the elderberry tree growing leaves and flowers despite the cape ivy covering it

the coast live oak standing tall despite the ivy crawling up its trunk

the sagebrush growing and flowering despite being shaded by eucalyptus

the meadow with flowers blooming despite the advancing broom

the trail still passable despite the overgrowth

the mules ears and poppies continuing to bloom in the vacant lot despite their numbered days

-Margot Cunningham

trail through oak woodland
trail through oak woodland near bottom E side Albany Hill

Taking Root

I am of you, for you, with you
You are beside me, beneath me, above me
I can’t move, I can only think
Thoughts move me to a warm place
This place is my home
I am home in this place
I feel my soul touching the ground, taking root
I sprout new shoots from this ground
Nourished by rain and humus
Summer may come and dry up my shoots
But my roots have taken hold in this earth

-Margot Cunningham

soap roots emerging, NE side, Albany Hill
soap root leaves emerging, NE side, Albany Hill

Little Island Hill

albany hilltaken from lower road in sunset cemetery, sf bridge, island
Albany Hill from Sunset View Cemetery

Little island hill of green
Machines all around
Squares and rectangles and triangles arising
Fallen rocks from the ancient sea floor
Ceiling of gray, then blue, now pink
Cages to protect
Destroy nothing that is perfect
Everything is there
Everything is here

-Margot Cunningham

Albany Hill from pedestrian overpass in Richmond

Hidden in the Ivy


 Ivy, ivy everywhere

Green carpet of ivy

Sending vertical vines up oak trunks

And curly roots into the soil

Green carpet of ivy

Hiding trash from decades past

Rusty beverage cans with pull-off tabs

Glass liquor bottles full of dirt

A musty pile of deteriorating carpet

Green carpet of ivy

We curse at you as we rip you out

Who planted this stuff? one person asks

How did so much of this ivy get here? another wants to know

Green carpet of ivy

We peel you back to find native wood ferns, trillium, and California blackberry,

Alive but muffled

We leave, satisfied at another patch cleared of that

Green carpet of ivy

 Margot Cunningham

ivy trees

The Meaning of Albany Hill

treesWhy do we have 24-hour gas stations? We must support the purchase and protection of the last remaining natural habitat in Albany. To lose Albany Hill means that Albany becomes a dead city, one that people move away from to be closer to nature. My landlord lives in Orinda because there are more trees there and the population is less dense. The reason I moved from San Francisco 7 years ago was because it was too dense. Will I have to move from Albany someday because of this same reason?

Albany Hill provides the easiest getaway from the gridlock of our daily lives. It’s a tremendous educational resource for our children, and what will they think if we let this beautiful area go to the development of more highrise apartments or condominiums? The hill is a perfect working test of our ability to nurture our children and ouhousesr community. If we fail, the repercussions will affect us for all future generations, in both obvious and subtle ways. When walking up there among the majestic trees, one senses the loss, as you can see the history of the development around the hill. The whole area is blanketed with a monotonous noisy carpet of suburban housing, commercial strips, and highways and industrial areas. Albany Hill is a jewel in the midst of this, and this addition to the diversity of our local landscape must be protected.

I live next to a 24-hour gas station. I live next to the undoubtedly busiest intersection in Albany at San Pablo and Marin, and commuters roaring to and from I-80 gridlock are only two houses away on Marin Avenue. Many of my neighbors use obnoxious machines to do yard work, and burn carcinogenic wood and barbeque leaves
fires. I feel the effects of dense population and long for more time to get away to Albany Hill, the best way to escape from the noisy profit-motivated world. Albany without Albany Hill would be like San Francisco without Golden Gate Park.

Happiness is getting rid of your money. No matter how much money you have, you don’t benefit from it until you spend it on things that you need and want. The small amount of money each of us would spend on Albany Hill would be well worth the investment. Once it is developed into housing it will never return to it’s natural state, and then we will be forced to drive farther and farther to enjoy the peace and wisdom of the trees. We must set a good example for our neighbors by protecting this beauty, this botanical resource, this spiritual resource.

Greg Jalbert
Albany, California
June 22, 1996