Lookout Point: A New Year

January First, 4pm. 

The afternoon sun lights up bright green patches of grass between the tall tree shadows. I’m on my way to greet the new year from Lookout Point, where we all like to look out at Oakland. Pyramid hill glows with the indescribable color made by orange light on bright green grass. Beyond, the bay is shining, Lake Merritt glistens. The whole city looks quiet and clean from here, rinsed by last week's rains, ready to start a fresh new year. 

A year ago today park was in shambles after the “cyclone bomb” of a storm that decimated this urban forest. A great number of Joaquin Miller’s trees are history now, the ones he planted 120-150 years ago to create a park setting on the Ohlone’s former grassland hunting ground. My 2023 photo album is full of green devastation. I soothed my sorrow knowing that these hundreds of lost trees died a natural death— they were at the ends of their life spans and killed by nature. But I also still feel that they, and all the trees in the Berkeley Marina, and in other area parks and streets and back yards, died violent, unnatural deaths because we didn’t have cyclone bombs before global heating. 

Either way, each time I came across twisted wreckage this year—these fallen giants taking other trees with them, snapping into jagged pieces, uprooting bushes, tearing the earth open—my heart hurt for every other tree that met a chainsaw for some short-sighted need of a land owner. The work that mature trees do on a global scale makes them the lungs of our planet, and the loss of trees in the Amazon is compounded by the loss of trees everywhere. The clock is ticking.

I came to the park less and less often last year. But even as I wrote about trees, planted them, championed them, I watch them fall on my street, on my route to work, even in the neighbor's yard behind my house. 

But today grass grows over everything, and the giant turned-up rootballs everywhere are looking like memorials to the trees they once held up. In the center of the park, near the main lot, where tall trees once stood gracefully around picnic tables, even the empty hill still feels blessed with new green grass, feels surrounded by nature. There are still eucalyptus and redwoods growing everywhere you turn. This is still a wooded park. And the light comes through on New Year’s Day.

Two trees that still stand are the Oak at Lookout point, under whose branches strangers gather to watch the sunset, and the tree on the meadow below that you can see from every point in Oakland and on the Bay that is visible to the eye looking out. 

A crowd gathers to watch for the New Year's Day sunset.

As the sun goes down, I turn away to see the fierce protective fencing that now surrounds the battered Serpentine hill, now resting and reseeding. I send thoughts of gratitude to those who have worked so hard this year to clear fallen trees while I sat there crying. The big concern right now is fire prevention, and I hear the City has a new tree plan.

Here's to a new cycle of growth and renewal. With care.


  1. Please support Ben Monson's Eagle Scout project to protect this slope!



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