A roundabout but lovely route


IMG_1928Park Hills announces its presence with impressive gates that include a fountain. I have to admit that I’d never heard of Park Hills neighborhood, but unlike many housing developments that bear similar names, this Park Hills does indeed border a park (Tilden), and it’s definitely on a hill.

Not the usual City of Berkeley sign

Fred Herbert Path has three sections.  The upper one, Fred Herbert Path South, is #76; the Fred Herbert Staircase is # 77; and the lower one, Fred Herbert Path North, is #78.

Its southern entrance is where a tiny street called Park Gate ends on Park Hills Road. As far as I could tell, Park Gate has only one residence on it.

IMG_1931Because I’m used to starting at the bottom of a path and climbing up, it surprised me when I reached the sign and realized I’d be heading down. (I’m glad I started on that end, though, because the northern entrance has no signage to tell you you’re in the right spot.) Well maintained with wooden steps and railing, the path led me through a variety of big trees, including a giant redwood. From the path, I could see a rather large tree fort in someone’s backyard, and further on, an abandoned vegetable garden. When the steps ended, the flat part of the trail was still clearly marked with low wooden edging, the kind you see in flower gardens.

Any ideas as to what this is?

In the middle of the first section was a clearing that had a small plastic play structure on one end, and on the other was a mystery object I couldn’t identify. I also came across a hummingbird, who politely posed for me out in the open air.








The middle section picks up on the other side of Woodside Road and continues to Hillview Road. The Fred Herbert Staircase has 264 steps. I didn’t count them–that information is listed on a website called Community Walk. Mostly shaded by surrounding shrubs, it’s a fairly gradual decline with some flat spots and in general, quite a lovely walk.

The northern entrance to Fred Herbert Path

The northern section is the shortest and lands you on Wildcat Canyon Road, which is probably fairly quiet in the middle of the day. But I was there shortly before the evening commute on a Friday, so many cars whizzed by on this major route through Tilden Regional Park. If I hasn’t been concerned that I’d be run over, I might have crossed the street to get the full view, which I could tell was gorgeous even from the bottom of the steps.

If I became hopelessly lost, I knew at least that I could always return to these wild blackberries  if I got hungry.

My plan was to walk along Wildcat Canyon until I came upon Wildcat Path (#80), where I would head back toward my car, away from Tilden. Although there was no sidewalk and no real shoulder, I made my way along the road, hugging the hillside closely, listening for vehicles behind me, and making a mental note of where the wild blackberry bushes were. It wasn’t long before I spotted a sign declaring that I was entering Contra Costa County, which surprised me, since Wildcat Path is in Berkeley, located in Alameda County. I checked the map again and retraced my steps a bit to see if I’d missed the path’s entrance. It was solid foliage on the hillside with nothing that could be remotely referred to as a path. So I soldiered on, noting on my map that Selby Trail waIMG_1952s up ahead.

Although no signs declared it as such, I was fairly confident that I’d found Selby Trail on the western edge of Tilden, so I relaxed and enjoyed my little foray into nature. If it weren’t for the faint sound of traffic nearby, I could have imagined I was deep in a forest away from civilization.

a pretty but prickly thistle

Eventually I arrived at the stop sign on Shasta Road, where Park Hills Road turns into Golf Course Drive, and from there I walked back to my car. I looked for the other end of Wildcat Path, which should have been where Hillview ends on Park Hills Road. No success. But I got in a bonus walk with that snippet of Selby Trail, so no harm done. And I never had to resort to foraging to keep up my strength either. The blackberries are still safe on the hillside above Wildcat Canyon Road.


A hidden park

IMG_1909I hadn’t originally intended to cover the Crescent Park Path, which is actually three paths, but I noticed its odd formation on the map as I was navigating back to my car and couldn’t resist checking it out. Especially since, at path #75, it was the next on my list anyway.IMG_1910

No signs point the way, but the map led me to what I knew had to be one of the three entrances. I couldn’t see what lay ahead, but I was curious enough to mount the narrow steps, and even the heavy wooden gate didn’t stop me.

I liked that this one chair stood alone at one end of the park.

I arrived at a cute little park with basketball hoops, a swing set, a play structure, a water fountain, and a supply of doggy poop bags. Nobody was there, even though it was a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon.

The play structure sported a sign that declared it appropriate for children aged 5 to 12, but no such signage was on the swing set, so I pumped and soared happily for a few minutes.

Crescent Park


The shortest, easiest way into Crescent Park

The other two paths that led to and from the park were much shorter and flat. Neither had signs proclaiming themselves Crescent Park Path, nor was there any indication that a park was hidden at the end of the trails behind these houses. All three access paths connected to the semi-circular road called The Crescent. No road bordered the park at all.

Me on a swing

On the way home, I spotted a few lawn chairs and an ironing board left out in someone’s driveway with a “Free” sign attached. I was going to take the short chair for the sole purpose of taking it to SF Mime Troupe performances in the future. (I’m getting too old and creaky to sit on the grass for that long any more.) Unfortunately, it didn’t fold up, so I put it back with a sigh.

I’d never seen this dogs for Obama poster before.
I loved the landscaping outside this cute house with a turret that gives it a storybook feel.

I found Bret Harte Lane, but Muir Path has disappeared!

Francis Bret Harte, the writer

Both Path 71 and Path 74 are on the map with broken lines, indicating that they are either unbuilt or impassable. So, those two get crossed off my list without any walking at all.


It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in July when I walked up another one of the three paths named for the 19th-century writer–Bret Harte Lane (#72). It starts pretty flat just off Miller Avenue with some oddly placed (and unnecessary) railroad ties that are dug into the ground. Then it begins to wind gently up between the ivy on one side and a wooden fence on the other. The path seems to accommodate the bordering trees by veering to the left, then the right; but at one spot in the path it appears that the tree is doing its best to get out of the way.

IMG_1893Near the top I discovered an odd knobby little growth off to the left. I’m no naturalist, but I’m guessing it’s the remains of something that tried to be a tree, but it looks more like an ancient tool that cave dwellers might have used to break up big dirt clods. Just an idea.

The path’s upper entrance is on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, a bus route and one of the busier streets up in the hills. Which is probably why there’s a clearly marked crosswalk at the bus stop–to allow folks to cross safely during commute times. But no buses and very few cars passed by. I did encounter a few bicyclists and another walker, who was checking her map.

IMG_1898Muir Way is a short residential street that dead-ends into Park Hills Road. The map indicates that Muir Way ends at the entrance to Muir Path (#73). But there was no sign at the top of the only set of steps in sight. I hesitated, worried that this path would lead me into someone’s back yard. I imagined a frustrated homeowner chasing me off his property. But I was, after all, on a mission. So I continued quietly, just in case.



I was surprised when the path suddenly turned into an open grassy field, a sort of no-man’s land, sectioned off with high fences behind several houses. The only sort of structure was a short post that housed a supply of doggy poop bags. Near the far end of the open space was what appeared to be a car-sized hole covered with large scraps of wood and surrounded by those little orange-striped traffic signs that usually signal road construction. Clearly, nobody was supposed to mess with that hole. I found it humorous that one of the little orange signs stated that there was no parking as it was a tow-away zone. That would be an impressive parking job, considering the only two accesses are pedestrian paths that are never wider than eight-foot railroad ties. I found the continuation of the path on the other end of the grassy area, although it was still unmarked.

How hard is it to add an apostrophe?

At the end of the trail was a sign that let me know that I had been on Patty Kate’s path. I consulted my map and found nothing by that name. So either Muir Path has been renamed Patty Kate’s Path so recently that the pathways map doesn’t show it, or someone just decided to make it her path. The sign is definitely not from the City of Berkeley because it’s wooden. (And I’d assume that the City of Berkeley would have a proofreader that would have noticed the missing apostrophe, but that may just be hopeful thinking on my part.)

What’s wrong with this picture?


On my return walk, I came upon a strange bit of architecture. That space around the door where you can see into the courtyard beyond is not glass–it’s open. And it is a door, because I spy a doorknob. I have so many questions…

Next time: I also discovered a hidden park that deserves a post all to itself, so watch for that. Same bat time. Same bat channel.

Hearts of Palm is a winner


Last night I was lucky to snatch some PWYC (pay-what-you-can) tickets for Central Works’ world premiere of Hearts of Palm, penned by their resident playwright, Patricia Milton, and directed by Gary Graves.  

Set on the fictitious island nation of Marititu, the play addresses both the consequences of corporate colonialism and having a one-night stand with a colleague, but it does so without getting preachy. I was intrigued when I read the synopsis online (the strikeouts are theirs):

A small Southeast Asian island is invaded visited by a gang of land grabbers a team of corporate negotiators intent on expanding a palm oil plantation. When a company rep goes rogue and joins the local rebel resistance, Viola Wells takes charge as Lead Negotiator. While fending off the unwanted advances of a corporate teammate, “Vi” must come to terms with the true nature of her employer: multi-national conglomerate, Empire Holdings, Ltd.

Vi (Frieda deLackner) fends off Strap (John Patrick Moore) Photos courtesy of Central Works website

Milton was inspired by the Girl Scouts. When GSA discovered the shady business practices most often used to obtain palm oil, the girls in green campaigned to get rid of it in their famous cookies.

Many of the humorous lines in the play are delivered by Central Works regular John Patrick Moore as Strap, the none-too-bright unrequited lover, and the company’s co-director Jan Zvaifler as Helen, the trigger happy, Red Bull-fueled ex-marine. I greatly enjoyed Michelle Talgarow’s character as well. Her solemn demeanor as the local government official contrasted well with the absurdity of the situation. And kudos to Erin Mei-Ling Stuart who stepped into the role of Brittany when the originally cast Rinabeth Apostol had to bow out for personal reasons.

I really appreciate theater that tackles a serious subject with wit and humor. I mean, you might as well have some fun while you’re learning something, right?

Hearts of Palm is playing at the Berkeley City Club on Thursdays through Sundays until August 14. (And Thursdays are PWYC.)

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Age Cannot Wither Her

Since most of my friends are over 50 (and several over 70), I found it refreshing to read a piece about aging from the perspective of 29-year-old who is also a fellow playwright.

San Francisco Theater Pub

Marissa Skudlarek, growing old thoughtfully. 

In the two weeks since I turned 29, I completed a draft of my first new full-length play in five years, and discovered a secret place to pick blackberries.

If I’m being honest with myself, the blackberries sometimes feel like an even better achievement than the play.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time passing lately: cycles, parallels, how the present moment feels like a tiny, dainty pinprick caught between the vastness of the past and future. (The main character of the play I just completed does a lot of thinking along those lines too, as the director of my staged reading pointed out. Well, I put a lot of myself into her.) My birthday is in the summer and I moved to San Francisco in the summer too, nearly eight years ago. People are moving away, or moving on to different projects

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A forager’s delight & some historical women

stoddard pathMy trusty Berkeley Path Wanderers map shows that Tilden Path (#65) and Hill Path (#66) are not built yet, which means I got to skip those two and head over to Stoddard Path (#67) on Grizzly Peak, Betty Olds Path (#68), and Anne Brower Path (#70). Inexplicably, no path with the number 69 is listed, built or unbuilt. Does that mean it existed once but was lost? This is not the first instance of a missing path. How would one lose a path exactly? Or was the person in charge of naming paths for the City of Berkeley at the time just not very  good with math?IMG_1861

In any case the three paths are close to each other, so it made for a simple itinerary.

Stoddard Path begins at Miller Avenue. If I’d been hungry, I’d have been in luck because the path is bordered by wild raspberry plants (to the observant forager) and an apple tree.

IMG_1860The scent of jasmine made for a pleasant walk. The last stretch–an easy stroll on fairly level ground–brings you to Grizzly Peak Boulevard.

From there it was a short distance to the Anne Brower Path, where I headed back down the hill along the shrub-and-ivy-lined dirt trail dotted with railroad ties. A tree with several intertwined branches provides shade as it reaches across to the tall wooden fence. Anne Brower ends on Miller at a fire hydrant.

The Betty Olds Path picks up just below Miller on Whitaker. As I embarked upon IMG_1872on the narrow path, I heard wind chimes off to the left. Further down, I noticed the fence on one side was essentially some light-colored heavy-duty cloth stretched between wooden frames and connected by posts. This arrangement allowed sunlight onto the path without sacrificing any privacy. It looked to me like a series of canvases awaiting painters to come through and turn the path into a gallery. Some peeling manzanita hugged the wooden fence on the right. Below my feet were the smashed remains of what looked like cherries, but I was never able to identify any cherry trees. I exited the Betty Olds Path Sterling onto Sterling, where I walked until I revisited the top half of Stevenson Path to get back to my starting point.

Anne Brower
Anne Brower

For today’s walk, I decided to do a little research.

Anne Brower, according to the Daily Planet, was a local environmentalist who frequented the walkway that was originally named Twain Path but was later referred to as Twin Path. (Somewhere the “a” got lost, I guess.) Berkeley City Council member Betty Olds worked to get the upper half of the path renamed to honor Brower after her death in 2001.

Betty Olds
Betty Olds next to the path named for her

This same Betty Olds, known as queen of common sense, retired from public service in 2008 at the age of 88, and the path was named to honor her in 2014. According to Berkeleyside, Olds was “instrumental in securing city funds to finance the first map of the Berkeley pathways.” The walkway that is now called Betty Olds Path was the lower half of the same Twain Path that was renamed for Brower. (But fear not, Twain fans, there is a Twain Way on the map that looks like it may be built in the future.)

I have no idea who Stoddard Path was named for. The Berkeley Path Wanderers Association‘s website offered no information on the person. The only person I was able to dig up was a Herbert Stoddard, who was a conservationist from the South. But there’s no evidence that he had any connection to Berkeley, so he probably isn’t the Stoddard for whom the path was named. If anyone out there has an idea of who this Stoddard is, please write it in the comments section.


Taking a different path

Yes, that is the official symbol for the City of Oakland on the sign. I didn’t notice it until I downloaded this pic.

The Berkeley Path Wanderers Association offered guided walks this past Sunday, and I planned to join the longer, more strenuous one that began at 9:45.

But I forgot to tell my dog Ruby. As we were leaving Point Isabel at 9:15, she decided to go swimming, and it took several minutes to persuade her up the muddy banks. I drove over to the meeting spot at John Muir School, hoping that with smooth traffic, I might just make it. When I arrived at 9:55, several people were standing around. I was in luck! They must be getting a late start. No. These folks were already gathering for the next scheduled hike that left at 10:15. The official greeter told me they’d left right on time, and even if I ran, it was unlikely that I’d catcIMG_1839h up.

Oh, well.

Since I’d driven to that part of town, I figured I might as well find a path to walk. I didn’t have my map with me, but all the paths are listed on their website, so I used my smart phone to search the list for a nearby path. Aha! I saw one named Claremont Path. I was right next to the Claremont Hotel, so it had to be around there somewhere, right? I put the name in my trusty GPS and followed the directions–with a few missteps and U-turns–to Brookside Avenue, where I found a sign that affirmed that I’d found Claremont Path. IMG_1840

The walkway was even, well maintained, and had sturdy railings. A flatter stretch led me through some lush ivy, but there was always plenty of room to walk.

The top IMG_1843of the path opens onto Ocean View Drive, where I wandered a bit. I was able to see the cranes on Oakland’s waterfront, but the moniker notwithstanding, I could not see the ocean, at least not from street level. But I did enjoy all the summer flowers in bloom as I passed the big beautiful houses of various styles.

The Grove Shafter Freeway

I headed right on Margarido and discovered a long set of stairs that goes all the way down to Broadway. All these expensive houses with well-tended gardens practically overlook Highway 24, but I didn’t hear the noise until I reached the fence by the stairs. (Its official name is the Grove Shafter Freeway, but I’ve never heard anyone call it that.) The houses that run along Broadway are partially hidden by some tall evergreens, no doubt to absorb some of sound produced from cars whooshing around the bend.

College Prep School

From Broadway, I turned right onto Brookside and realized I was parked directly across the street from College Preparatory School, which I thought was odd because I was sure that CPS was in Oakland, but Claremont Path was listed as being in Berkeley. Huh.

When I got home, I went to mark my progress. According to my Berkeley Path Wanderers map, Claremont Path was between Hillcrest Road and El Camino Real. I downloaded my pics and checked the photographic evidence. No, I wasn’t crazy. Was the map wrong? Did Claremont Path move?

Thanks to Google Maps, I was able to locate both the Claremont Path that is in Berkeley and the one I took, which is in Oakland–two paths on either side of freeway with the same name. So it was a lovely walk, but it didn’t count toward my goal of walking Berkeley’s 140 paths in 2016 because, of course, it wasn’t in Berkeley. I was cheated! You might even say, I was shafted.

And my last name is Grove. (You see where I’m going with this?) When I ended up in Oakland, it was because I got on the wrong side of the highway. So it wasn’t really my fault that I found the wrong Claremont Path. I blame the Grove Shafter Freeway.