LeRoy Steps: the place I heard sad news

LeRoy Steps

You never know where you’re going to be when you get one of those phone calls.

I’m on Virginia Street about to turn right onto LeRoy Avenue, on my way back to the car after walking Cedar Path (#107) and La Vereda Steps(#109) when I get a call from my sister in Oklahoma. I know immediately that it’s bad news. I head instinctively toward my car on Hilgard Avenue, which unfortunately takes me right past some noisy construction work when my sister tells me that her husband died.

I’m trying to hear her by pressing my phone hard against my left cheek while plugging my right ear.

He was at home in bed when his heart finally gave out.

My head is down, and I am power walking, first toward, and then up the LeRoy Steps (#112) until the buzzing of the power tools fades to a dull roar and I stop.

She performed CPR on him for ten minutes before paramedics arrived and whisked him away. But he was unconscious and she sensed that he had already left her. At the hospital, doctors kept him alive long enough for his daughter to arrive and say goodbye.

My sister is one tough cookie. A retired judge and the eldest of my siblings, she is usually in charge of whatever activity she participates in. She’s decisive and calm. The family member that everyone goes to for support, she’s a rock.

But now she’s grieving for her mate of the last 31 years, and I could hear the fragility in her voice. Our other sister was there with her, along with the rest of her female posse (plus her teenage grandnephew), to make sure she got something to eat and to help her with funeral arrangements.

My perch on Hilgard Avenue at the top of LeRoy Steps

From 1600 miles away, all I could do was tell her it was okay to cry. She shouldn’t have to pretend that she was fine. Family was there to help her get through it, I assured her, even though I wasn’t one of them. Her response: she was worried that if she let herself fall apart that she would never be able to pick up the pieces. I couldn’t argue with that. But she assured me she would try to get some sleep.

For most of the conversation I was leaning on a concrete structure at the top of LeRoy Steps while my sister recounted her horrific day and I feebly attempted to comfort her.  A young mom passed me descending the steps, and I hadn’t moved when she made her return trip several minutes later with a toddler. We may have been on the same staircase, but we were in different worlds at that moment. It felt strange asking my sister about her husband’s funeral while this little boy gleefully mounted the steps hand in hand with his smiling mom.

I could hear the deep weariness beneath the grief as she turned the phone over to our other sister, who assured me they would take care of her. I asked her to make sure they gave her lots of hugs before we said goodbye. And I knew she would.

The not-too-distant Campanile pealed five times in its deep tones that sound so final. Five o’clock–I needed to pick up our little foster dog from the vet before it closed. My brother-in-law was no longer alive, but there were still things to do.

In the car on my way home, I wondered briefly how I would handle the situation my sister was now in. I’ve lost both my parents, all my grandparents, and several friends, so I’ve experienced loss. But I don’t think I could face waking up in the morning without my husband/best friend/soul mate. I’m no rock.

At an intersection between Cedar Path and La Vereda Steps was this sundial.

When I was perusing the photos from my walk, I remembered the sundial I came across that was between Cedar Path and La Vereda Steps. (See 10/15/16 post.) It seemed the most appropriate photographic accompaniment for this post, not just for its symbolism for the passage of time but also for the words etched on it: “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.”

My sister is not yet old, but she did get to spend 31 years with someone she loved, which, I suppose, is more than some people get. It’s not exactly a silver lining, but it’s something to hold onto.

No signs and steps going every which way

Cedar Path

The map showed Cedar Path (#107) as the pedestrian extension of Cedar Street continuing east, but there was no sign declaring it as such, and I didn’t see it at first. I asked a man raking up leaves across the street, and luckily he knew where it was. The overgrown and seemingly haphazardly placed wooden railroad ties meander up the hill from La Loma Avenue to La Vereda Road, bordered by a fenced-off property with a narrower brick path that runs parallel to it for much of the climb.




Partway up I had to duck to avoid a huge tree branch that’s broken through the wooden fencing and insinuated itself across the path.

No sign graced the eastern entrance of Cedar Path either.

Distinctive houses caught my eye along La Vereda Road, including one almost completely covered by ivy and another for its clean, white ultra-modern lines.

I see only windows peeking through the greenery. I have no idea what color this house is painted.

img_2389Someone had thoughtfully provided a bench at the quiet intersection where Hilgard continued east from La Vereda. I wasn’t tired and so wasn’t in need of a resting spot. But I appreciated that it was there just in case.

Hilgard Avenue disappears between La Loma and La Vereda and is marked on the Berkeley Path Wanderers map as unbuilt Hilgard Path (#108). I walked a short way down what turned out to be a driveway to see if I could tell where the future path would be. No luck. So I crossed it off my list.


A little further down the road forked and a sign declared: “Very small cars only. Impassable for large cars.” To the left was a wooden bridge that led to some La Vereda addresses, and to the right was indeed a narrow street on which only limited traffic was possible.

And kind of in the middle of all that were the various sets of stairways that together comprise La Vereda Steps (#109), though no signage confirmed this. They went in all directions, from parts of La Vereda to other parts.

one portion of La Vereda Steps

I explored the many variations of routes and then walked down to the intersection of La Loma and Virginia Street, where I emerged and declared to a postal carrier I happened upon what a weird configuration of stairs I’d just experienced. He said he knew they were there but he’d never been up them.

Just south of La Vereda Steps are unbuilt paths Le Conte (#110) and Highland (#111), so I struck those from my list as well.

When I got home, I realized I’d accidentally skipped Hill Court Steps (#106), so I’ll have to save that path for another day.

I saw many of these on the ground during my walk and was charmed by them. They’re commonly called rose pine cones even though they’re from a cedar tree.




Vine Lane is a pleasant Sunday jaunt

upper entrance to Vine Lane

Since I’ve taken a long-term sub position teaching 5th grade, I haven’t been walking Berkeley’s paths. (Or attending my hip-hop class or going to Playreaders at the library–this making a living thing is so time-consuming…) But I managed to squeeze in a walk up Vine Lane (#105) in the middle of a Sunday.

img_2372Vine Lane is the pedestrian continuation of Vine Street from Hawthorne Terrace up to Euclid Avenue. The upper end has a lovely entrance with the name stretching across and above the walkway. A black-tar path with a few sets of steps and a sturdy metal railing for the steeper portions, Vine Lane is a pleasant stroll bordered by bamboo, ivy-covered fences, trumpet vine, and broad-leaved trees.


Off to one side is a little bricked walkway that leads to a house, adorned with plants and a cow skull. The other side opens onto a car port halfway up. Today I actually saw two other people using the path in front of me, enjoying the sunny, breezy autumn day. Rain had been forecast, but someone apparently forgot to tell the clouds because it was blue sky as far as the eye could see.

the lower end of Vine Lane

It being an October in an even-numbered year, I encountered dozens of yard signs supporting local candidates for mayor and city council on my walk to and from my car, but Vine Lane was thankfully void of any signage. In fact, it was a nice break from all things political. During my stroll, I never once thought about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I just walked and enjoyed living in the beautiful temperate Bay Area. And I suppose that is one of the reasons that I walk Berkeley’s paths.

A historical plaque, critter encounters, and going under a street

I know it means “Garden of the Heart,” but I don’t know what it refers to.
the northern steps to the west entrance of Rose Walk

Today I tackled Rose Walk (#102), La Loma Steps (#103), and Rose Steps (#104). Having already walked La Loma Path and Rose Glen Alley, I’m feeling like some of these paths could be renamed to better distinguish them…

I walked up what has to be the grandest of all entrances to Berkeley paths, with two sets of steps that merge  just above the cars whizzing by on Euclid Avenue. At the top of the first tier of stairs is a handsome street lamp. When the steps end, a wide concrete walkway with an easy incline takes you through sunny gardens that have smaller paths to individual dwellings. The path acts as a common courtyard, allowing residents to have their front yard face a quiet path rather than a noisy street. I decided it would be a nice place to live.

Beyond the garden, the path continues, bordered by a rustic wooden fence with an uneven top on the right, juniper and other shrubs to the left, and lots of shade above from trees on both sides. Near the top is another set of wide concrete steps, which end in the shady curve of Rose Street where it becomes Le Roy Avenue. There’s no sign to indicate the eastern entrance, and in fact, I recall walking this same stretch of Rose Street after traversing nearby Tamalpais Path and seeing this end and wondering if it was one of the paths. It was!

west entrance to La Loma Steps

From there I headed south on Le Roy until I came upon the western entrance of La Loma Steps, which features a lovely trellis doorway covered with white blooms. The steps were apparently designated a historical landmark in 1995, according to the informative plaque at the entrance explaining the path’s origin and which I will quote from extensively here:

When the La Loma Park subdivision was created in 1900, the streets were laid out in harmony with the natural contours of the land as advocated by Berkeley’s Hillside Club. The rustic quality of the stone walls, brick paving, pergola and benches along the steps reflects the Club’s “building with nature” philosophy. Adjacent property owners donated land to create this public pedestrian pathway, one of many in the Berkeley Hills. The new steps allowed easy access to the streetcar line which had opened on Euclid Avenue in 1903.

After the 1923 Berkeley Fire swept through the neighborhood, the steps remained standing on a hillside of ruins and ashes. Features of the steps were rehabilitated after the Fire and again in 1992.

I saw this sign outside a house on Rose St. but I saw no strange dogs…

Thanks, Berkeley Historical Plaque Project!

On the Path Wanderers website, I found a link to an article in the Daily Planet that goes into more detail about the fire and the consequent reconstruction.

The brick path zigzags at right angles partway through and provides a few small benches and even a roof of greenery, where several properties seem to converge. Fences and a chain clearly mark the pathway that continues from LeRoy up to Buena Vista Way.

Just a few steps to the left, or north, is Greenwood Terrace, where I heard an older man’s voice and assumed he was conversing via Bluetooth on his hidden smart phone. I was delighted to discover that he had been talking to Milly, his eight-year-old canine companion, whom I got to pet.

img_2316Along Greenwood Terrace I found a tree-lined path next to a perfectly manicured green lawn with what would be a gorgeous view on a clear day. My map  showed it as Greenwood Commons, and some low chains and a few signs declared the area private and insisted on no dogs. Milly would have to walk the streets.


the entirety of the Rose Steps

After Greenwood Terrace dead-ended on Rose Street, I headed right, or east, where I came upon a young, gray tabby named Mitts, who mewed rather insistently and didn’t mind my attention but didn’t seem to want her picture taken, judging by her constant movement that resulted in several blurry photos.

I was confused by my map, which seemed to indicate that Rose Street turned into the Rose Steps, which continued in the same direction and became La Loma Avenue.

At the end of Rose Street, you are eye-level with the cars’ tires as they speed by on La Loma Ave.

The truth is that Rose Street comes to an end beneath La Loma where it curves south, and the Rose Steps are located near the eastern end of the street on its south side. This short path allows one to reach La Loma Avenue by foot. But first I trekked to the very end of Rose Street to see where it led. On the left was a tall solid fence that abutted a house that had no windows on two sides and faced a steep canyon.

Under the curve of La Loma Avenue

Beyond that was an empty lot that was for sale, which faced the canyon on one side and the industrial structure that supported the bend of La Loma on the other. I think I understand why the house didn’t bother with windows on its south side…

I think that because of the yet-to-be-built paths and one that I walked earlier (out of numerical order!), I have only 28 more paths in Berkeley to go. To reach my goal of walking them all in one year, I just need to do two per week through December. I can totally do that, right?




The ultimate urban hike–the Solano Stroll

photo collage courtesy of Solano Avenue Association’s website

I think I’ve missed only one Solano Stroll since we moved back to Berkeley 11 years ago. It’s just the funnest block party ever. And by “block,” I mean the mile of Solano Avenue that goes from San Pablo Avenue in Albany up to the Alameda in Berkeley. People who don’t live in the neighborhood have to deal with parking, but since I live a block off Solano, I just walk there.

I love the diversity of all kinds: toddlers and octogenarians rocking out to the Back Pages, belly dancers and tap dancers, people of many races wearing glittery costumes or t-shirts with slogans who are listening to music, watching martial arts demos, talking to political candidates, and checking out the local preschools, theaters, associations, and, of course eating everything fromimg_2279 Zachary’s slices on the street to sitting down at Fonda’s outdoor space for a meal and cocktails.

One thing I notice about Solano Strollers is their love of hats. Part of it is just trying to keep the sun out of their eyes, I’m sure, but yesterday’s stroll was cloudy about 97 percent of the time. Of course, many different kinds of head-wear were available for purchase at the Stroll, from knit children’s caps to wide-brimmed straw hats to cat-ear headbands. I get the feeling that a lot of people buy these and wear them right away but then forget about them after the novelty wears off because I don’t see many of these hats any other time of year. Just a theory.


After walking the length of Solano Avenue, avoiding kids on skateboards and scooters, refusing the leaflets handed out by the hundreds, resisting the churros and kettle corn, and just being among thousands of people, I slipped into the Albany Theater for a welcome respite. During the Stroll, old cartoons are shown continuously all day for free, and tired parents bring their children in to rest in the cool dark space. Of course these kids are probably imagining Dora the Explorer or Spongebob, and they are confronted with weird adult-oriented humor that sometimes borders on racist or misogynist using animation techniques from well before the Nixon administration, often with out-of-date references. I heard a toddler loudly exclaim to her mother, “I don’t like this.” One cartoon relied on the audience being able to read a note written in cursive handwriting in order to understand the action. Most children can’t read cursive until at least third grade, and really little kids can’t read at all. But it made me even more grateful for Pixar. And it was a good spot to update my Facebook status and take a breather.

my groupie pin!

My agenda for the Stroll always has two major components: enjoying my favorite Stroll band, the Back Pages, and arriving early enough to get a good seat for the Katie’s Dance Studio performance. Neither ever disappoints.

Although I am somewhat crowd-averse and never attend big arena concerts anymore, I relish being able to wander down on foot what is a busy thoroughfare the other 364 days of the year.

It’s comforting to recognize the people running the booths for local businesses and organizations. I smile knowing that Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (which is actually not in Berkeley but in Kensington) will be there alongside the East Bay Atheists and the Berkeley Buddhist Priory. I love running into people whom I know from various aspects of my life: past students and their parents, fellow singers, neighbors, former colleagues, and people I’m sure I’ve seen around somewhere before, if only at last year’s Stroll. It feels like a huge family outing but with less stress.


And a lovely thing happened to me in a situation that could have been tense and embarrassing. I’d used my cash to buy my lunch earlier but saw many happy people exiting As You Wish, the frozen yogurt place. I was tempted by the idea of some frozen yogurt during the short warm spell in the afternoon. Luckily I spied the sticker that let me know I could use my debit card. I gleefully served myself a little chocolate, cookies and cream, pomegranate-raspberry tart, and something called Italian tart. Then I scattered some granola and crushed cookies on top. Yum. I put my frozen concoction on the scale, and the cashier gave me the total. I opened my phone/wallet to retrieve my MasterCard, but it wasn’t there. I searched all my pockets. No luck. I checked for hidden cash. Nothing. I apologized profusely and started to walk away from my cup of yogurt, but the person behind the register told me to take it anyway. I started to refuse, not wanting to take advantage of her kindness, but I realized she wouldn’t be able to sell it anyway, so I promised to come back with the money I owed soon. She just smiled. I’m going there later today to pay my debt. And I know that I’ll be a regular customer at As You Wish.

A park, a path, and parking issues

img_2239On the Path Wanderer’s website, Northgate Path is listed as #101. The 2010 Berkeleyside article I read dubs Northgate as the 100th path. But the numbers have been a little off a few times, so this seemed par for the course.

You could not step more than a few yards before encountering another sign prohibiting parking.


I saw on the map that Glendale-La Loma Park was just south of Northgate Path, so instead of driving to one of the entrances, I parked on La Loma and took the opportunity to traverse the park on my way to today’s path. It was another park I’d never seen before, nestled away behind some hilly scrub and private residences. One entrance was the head of a fire trail chained off at the end of El Portal Court where no parking was allowed.

img_2273In fact, this was where I saw the first of numerous NO PARKING signs in the neighborhood. Space is an apparent issue, and people seem to have strong feelings about it.

img_2236Glendale-La Loma Park is divided into sections: a baseball diamond, a climbing structure for older kids, a gated area for tot play with a cute stationary train, and a wild hillside. It’s a lovely, spacious park, and not a soul was in it but me. Probably because there’s no parking…

img_2243I left the park via Glendale Avenue, turned on Campus Drive and walked precariously on the edge of the road (since there was no sidewalk) until it intersected with Quail Avenue, which ends at the southern entrance to Northgate Path. The sign was fairly hidden by flora, and I might not have noticed it had I not been certain of the path’s location.

The path was long and fairly straight, bordered by eucalyptus trees, ivy, blackberry bushes, and a chain link fence tangled up in convoluted tree branches. img_2252Several identical signs were posted on the west side warning those who walked along there not to trim any of the plants without first checking with Charlie Bowen of the Path Wanderers Association. I’m imagining some renegade weeders tearing their way down the path with machetes and an evil plan; then they catch sight of the signs and curse, their afternoon of gleeful trimming foiled.

It’s not officially autumn yet, but a carpet of leaves covered the steps.

A few locked gates along the way made it clear that this public passage cuts between private homes. Most of the path was railroad-tie steps continuing downward as far as I could see. Toward the end, the precipitous descent required some carefully built switchbacks with railings, for which I was thankful.

I headed west on Shasta Road, which took me past a house that was getting rid of stuff and had placed it out in front for passersby to see. A small brush labeled “Frogger” was among the miscellaneous items, which I discovered has nothing to do with the video game I played in the 80s. A Google search revealed that it’s a golf brush. (I didn’t even know golf clubs needed brushing!) Most items were free for the taking, but some furniture pieces bore post-it notes with prices on them and instructions as to where to leave the money. That kind of trust in human nature made me smile. I wonder if it worked or if the tables and desk are still there.

Like I said, I saw many versions of this sign.

A bumper sticker on a truck parked on the street read “Under republicans, man exploits man. Under democrats, it’s just the opposite.” I had to think about it a moment, but then I laughed.

Shasta Road takes a sharp turn south, and according to my map, it was about to turn west for quite a spell before intersecting with any road that would allow me to head back east. This would have made for a much longer walk back to my car.

Bottom of shortcut trail built by boy scouts



But happily, a Berkeley Boy Scout troop had seen the need for a more direct route through Glendale-La Loma Park and had built quite a long trail up the wild hillside as a service project. Bless those boy scouts! It was a steep trek up many switchbacks, but it took me right back to the park, where it was a short walk to my car. I probably saved 20 minutes. Thank you, Berkeley Boy Scout Troop 24!



Goodbye, Seattle–I love your art!

This mural is on the side of the Southwest Seattle Senior Center on South Holly.
At Cheap Chickadee Thrift Store
a tile in someone’s front yard


Seattle was lots of fun!

Besides beautiful walks, an amazing central library, an improv show, some great food, and engaging company, I saw a lot of art.


I enjoyed the Henry Art Gallery (especially James Turrell’s Light Reign), but I loved discovering so much public art and the various forms it took. Peeking from behind street signs I saw a variety of colorful pieces.

These whimsical creatures are the products of Vikram Madan’s colorful imagination.
I’m assuming it says “Greatness Starts Here,”but it could be something else…
Just off a south Seattle street is this figure. All color comes from flattened soda cans.
In Seward Park near the playground

Update on Miniature Mobility: I wasn’t able to see the last piece because it had been stolen and not yet replaced when I returned home to Berkeley. But the artist herself assured me it would be more theft-proof and would be back up today (Wednesday). So if you live in the Seattle area, go find it!img_2206-2



Okay, this sign in someone’s yard isn’t art, but I enjoyed it anyway.