Our first walk!

“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.” 

– Rachel Carson


Saturday, June 16th was our first walk, and it went swimmingly!  Here’s a seriously (dare I say tragically) truncated version of what we talked about, for all of you who were unable to attend.

The topic of the day was “a general social and natural history of Lake Merritt”.  We met at the Pergola (the name for the columns between Grand Ave and Lakeshore), where Norah and I started the walk with a re-visioning of the area as it would have been 200 years ago. Lake Merritt would have been a tidal slough, rich with marsh vegetation like tule, saltgrass, and pickleweed.  Herds of elk and pronghorn as well as grizzlies would have been lumbering through, and flocks of birds would have darkened the sky.  Such is the scene Louis Peralta would have seen when he was 17 years old, surveying the area from the point that’s now Mills College.

Meeting at the pergola, photo by Damon Tighe

We walked along the edge of the water and learned about the trees, plants, and animals that now populate the area, and Norah taught us about the City Beautiful and Sanitation Awakening movements that carried us into the 20th century.

Widgeon grass photo by Damon Tighe

Aquatic harvester removing widgeon grass, photo by Damon Tighe

Reaching the Bird Islands and feeding area, we were greeted by the ubiquitous Canadian geese and pigeons.  A “gulp” (the word for a group of cormorants) was busy nesting in the island trees while we talked about them, the night herons, and the snowy egrets that make their home at the lake.

Canadian Goose gosling photo by Damon Tighe

Continuing on to the boathouse, where the Lake Merritt Institute has its office, Norah talked about the impact WWII, unions, the Great Migration, and “white flight” had on Oakland’s economy.  I talked about the Glen Echo watershed and the thousands of pounds of trash that the Lake Merritt Institute scoops out of the lake every year.  Seven square miles of storm drain runoff from 50,000 Oakland residents- and all that detritus runs into the lake.  No wonder trash cleanup is a full-time endeavor… thank you, Lake Merritt Institute, for all of your constant work!

After we had wandered halfway through the beautiful gardens at Lake Merritt, we stopped under the shade of a Giant Sequoia, where this gem was taken:

Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) photo taken by Eddie Dunbar

It wasn’t just us getting tired from the heat!

Norah taught us about some of the history and activities of the Black Panthers, and lots of walk attendees added their own stories and knowledge about the activism of this legendary group.

Our last stop was under one of the Deodar cedars by the lawn bowling fields.  Norah and I wrapped up the talk by recapping some of the events that the lake has been a major player or backdrop in, and that to truly understand the history and ecology of an area, nothing should be considered too small or mundane to garner one’s attention.

Thanks to everyone who attended our inaugural walk!

Group photo by Damon Tighe

A special thank you to Vanessa from Vee Horticulture for teaching me about the plants around the lake before this first walk, and Dr. Richard Bailey from the Lake Merritt Institute for giving Norah and I access to all the amazing information in the Lake Merritt Institute office and answering lots of our questions. And a big thank you to Norah Cook from Wild Oakland for being a co-presenter and really knowing her stuff about Oakland’s history!

See you next month!

– Constance

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