I have a weird hobby

by Daniel Borgström

I have a weird hobby. Strolling around the neighborhood on the old sidewalks, I read memos set in concrete. "Jepsen Bros 1917," "Schnoor Bros 1922," "Hall & Coggins 1913," and others. Those are the contractors and their crews who laid in these sidewalks in the years indicated. This is what they and their crews did for 8 or 10 hours a day back then, when they were young and alive. I often pause to look at these stamped inscriptions, and think of the builders, picturing them in my mind, working with their shovels and saws and hammers, making forms and pouring in the concrete.

Behind these sidewalks are the houses, also dating mostly from the early 1900s. A few are Victorians, some are Arts & Crafts and many are of various other styles, often simple but nice looking. All together they make pleasant, livable neighborhood.

Here and there, along some streets are book-boxes; people sharing their books they've read. A kindly, thoughtful gesture.

Up along the former Santa Fe right-of-way is a park with bushes and flowers, lovingly maintained by a group of neighbors. "The Weed Warriors," they unofficially call themselves. A planter box is painted with a flock of chickens, and lettering above it reads "West side Park." This is part of the Ohlone Green Way; also along it are plaques and photos commemorating the Native Americans of this region; there is also a photo of a photogenic family of Spanish ranchers. "Californios," I think they called themselves back then. We live and walk among these mementos of the past and present.

While admiring this, a cute little squirrel might scoot by and dash up a nearby tree. Trees contribute to the atmosphere in so many ways. Some of the larger ones are tall redwoods, dating back decades. Among the more newly planted ones are native California oaks.

Looking up a street to the east, we see the Berkeley Hills and Grizzly Peak, often wrapped in clouds, shrouded protectively it might seem. On some nights a large moon rises over those hills, and in the morning the sun rises from behind them.

Going the other way, a mile or so to the west, is the Berkeley waterfront. There's a large 90 acre
Chávez park, inhabited by flocks of cute squirrels, and many species of birds including ducks, sparrows, pelicans, redwing blackbirds and egrets. During the winter months a burrowing owl makes this her winter residence; the owl can often be seen hanging out along the east shore where she poses for photo ops.

This is a pleasant neighborhood; it's a nice place to live here in Berkeley's District One, the area around on the North Berkeley BART station. Nevertheless, it may not always be this way; last year some developers wanted to monetize our waterfront park, a plan against which we launched a petition drive and massively rejected it. More threatening are various developers' planing to turn our neighborhood into a forest of high-rises -- projects which would make money for the wealthy while decreasing the livability of our neighborhood.

Daniel Borgström
March 2023