Lake Merritt

It’s not all or nothing. But, it’s always something.” Wendy

Artwork in an Oakland neighborhood.

In the late winter of 2022, we rented a house in Oakland between Broadway and Lake Merritt. We arose before cafes opened. In silence, we read headlines on our devices. Covid;  January 6th;  Zelenskiy; War; Putin.

Our Airbnb had old school ambience. It’s fifteen steps above the sidewalk. A book bindery clattered away next door. Across the street, a multi-story condo complex neared completion. It, too, battered the silence. But cities are noisy places. We adapt. Before long, this old house will be history. I hope someone salvages the gorgeous hardwood floors.

Looking down to where we walked.

The roads are Yin and Yang. There’s a sunny side and a shady side. The arc of sunlight is low. Grit peppers the ground. Construction debris decorates the roads. Unkempt gardens yearn for attention. The neighborhood wriggles out of its winter skin. A cool breeze flutters as we search for coffee. 

Three blocks away, Lake Merritt and the warmth of a climbing sun await us. We walk the promenade. It’s 3.5 miles around the lake. But we stay on the sunny side. Pasties of cotton-like clouds stick to the blue sky. Fairy Land, a lakeside children’s attraction, waves its magic wands. Covid restrictions ease.

Croquet fields along Lake Merritt.

We visit the Bonsai Garden. Then, the lawn bowling courts. There, a solitary couple play croquet, while somewhere in Europe, a madman drops bombs on innocent people.

On the lake, waterfowl feed and roost or fly about in the springish weather. Ducks and geese, pelicans and egrets, the lake shelters dozens of other bird varieties. In fact, this tidal lagoon is home to the United States’ oldest designated wildlife refuge dating from 1870.

Mature trees, oaks in particular, soar above picnic areas. They provide shade on hot days. Birds nest in the canopy. Avian motion is constant. The diverse ecology of Lake Merritt entertains the procession of humanity. Close by, a downtown rejuvenates. Adjacent neighborhoods gentrify with pace.

The Bellevue-Staten.

Lakeside, the building designs show modern efficiencies alongside past extravagance. Glass walled condominiums abide next to the art deco Bellevue-Staten. She is the queen of lake front architecture. Her brick and cream colored gown has lace on the margins. Attractive, erect, and proud, she holds her head high.

Our winter’s traveling contingent visited with college roommates, siblings, children, a girlfriend, nieces, and a friendly dog or two that plied the promenade. 

The latest Covid advisories stretch to fit situations. We tested their elasticity. Some places require proof of vaccination. Others say they do but then don’t check. We enjoyed nervous meals inside restaurants, a movie, and mingles with friends and family whose own mingling was … whatever.

Looking south on Lake Merritt.

Several days pass. No symptoms to report. I feel as normal as one can under the influence of chemo, steroids, and the insanity of war. Still, I will cease with my infidelity to Covid vigilance. It’s not yet time to abandon the wonders of social distancing or the wearing of masks. Trees are budding. Winter is in retreat. It’s always something. I am happy.

11 thoughts on “Lake Merritt

  1. Thanks for writing this John, very evocative, made me feel like I was there. Even more, made me wish I had really been there.


  2. You sound happy, reflective, and it makes for a perfect cadence for the day (and for a read). If there was ever one sentence that could summarize this year for me, it would be the perfectly worded, the emotional sigh of: “There, a solitary couple play croquet, while somewhere in Europe, a madman drops bombs on innocent people.” And as with all travels and the paths for this year, I agree all roads are Yin and Yang. The sunny side is the one I’ll be walking on most of the time, but I just can’t resist the shady side every now and then. Good to hear all is well, and take care.


    1. Hi Dale. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate that you take the time to acknowledge the writing effort. Your narratives are often poetic. They inspire me to try harder! 👍


  3. Merci beaucoup, John, for your essay full of poetry. You beautifully create the sunny side of your Lake Merritt visit while still acknowledging life’s uncertain darkness. I agree with Dale’s praise of the solitary couple sentence.


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