How long will the rocks of Berkeley last?

Berkeley Camellia in October

My sisters came to visit, and for the first time in about 50 years we returned together to places in Berkeley where we used to play. None of us has ever lived there, but as children we visited our maternal grandparents every summer.

Both of our parents had grown up in Berkeley, and last week we walked and drove the mostly hilly streets to find several of the houses in which our grandparents and our father and his sisters had lived. Of course we also stopped and stared at our other grandma’s house, savoring the memories that had been born in us there.

Not far away is Indian Rock Park, of which you can see pictures in my post about the neighborhood where Grandma and Grandpa lived for half a century. Indian Rock is huge — but not as big as we remembered it. And the park includes massive slabs and lava stones directly across the street, which I don’t know if I’ve ever played on. We didn’t go there this time, either, but climbed to the top of Indian Rock itself and sat a while, looking out over the tops of a thousand houses to San Francisco Bay.

Down Indian Rock Path

Not for very long, though, because we wanted to skip on down the steps of Indian Rock Path to Solano Avenue shops. Well, maybe not skip. But skipping is probably what we used to do!

Jade plant in bloom on the path

In our memories the excursion to the ice cream parlor took much longer than what we found this time, even though we have passed the age when one can be unconscious of one’s legs and feet whether walking uphill or down. That shop has a new name, but the wares are similar, and you can look at old scoops while you wait.

After lunch, because we wanted to return to the higher neighborhood, it was necessary to hike up, and this time we took the steep route of Marin Avenue. Again my experience seemed altogether different from that of years ago, when most evenings after dinner Grandma, at an age greater than any of us have reached yet, would lead us on brisk neighborhood walks. It was slower than then. And the crucial person was missing.

Marin Avenue is a hike.

Mortar Rock steps

We circled back to Mortar Rock, just around the corner from Indian Rock, and wandered there longer, just as we used to play there longer in our childhoods. More of those stone surfaces are easily climbable, and Grandma always felt better about us going by ourselves, because we didn’t have to cross a busy street to get there.

The houses next to these parks and paths don’t have much privacy. In this picture you can see how close they are, and how there are not fences blocking them from park goers and their glances.

When I first put my feet on the dry paths of Mortar Rock Park, suddenly a familar herby smell registered in my senses, making me look down to see long pointy dead leaves underfoot, just as my mind was linking to “bay tree.” I lifted my head and saw that the dappled shade was cast by at least two tall old California Bay Laurels (along with oaks and buckeye) whose several large trunks were curving high over the rocks.

And yes, there were the grinding mortars in the rock, empty of anything but leaves at this time of year. Do children still pretend to be Indians grinding acorns in them?

One of the houses we were searching for was only a few blocks from here, so we walked up the street, admiring the many flowers still in bloom in this mild climate. Banks of fuchsias always remind us of the long row of them that grew along the brick path in Grandma and Grandpa’s back yard.

More rocks! This house, though modern in design, has a very traditional and unchanging boulder to distinguish its front yard.


This one’s even more of a monolith. Having such a thing in your front yard would certainly lend drama to the landscaping. I wonder if the owners of the house are helped to keep a humble perspective on their lives, with the antiquity of their mineral friend constantly looming. So solid, and not going anywhere.

Lots of giant volcanic rocks dot the neighborhood. I saw these I didn’t remember on Santa Barbara Avenue, taking up a lot or two.

Rocks on Santa Barbara Ave., Berkeley CA

The weather was summery, and we seemed to walk always up, and up. It felt good to stop frequently to snap pictures of fall color or late summer flowers. Eventually we arrived at the first house of our father’s on our list, on Santa Barbara Avenue.

Another childhood home of my father, on Euclid, has had a facelift recently — we compared it with photos from 15 years ago when a patriarchal tree must have blocked the view and the warming sunlight, and the color was white. Paint and trees and even whole houses are easier to change or remove than those giant rocks.

Euclid house

And though it seems ages ago that we walked these streets together, and slept in the Berkeley bedroom wondering at the city lights spread out before us, most of these houses are not more than a hundred years old. Young things, really.

We went back to our car and drove to a few more houses, none so photogenic now. We bought gas at the station where our grandma used to buy hers, and we shopped at the market where she used to shop. We ate dinner at Spenger’s Fish Grotto where we’d eaten many times with our grandparents. And then my dear sisters and I finished our day with shopping at our grandma’s favorite Park & Shop market, now Andronico’s.

But a little earlier in the evening we’d added to our tour a visit to the cemetery where both Grandma and Grandpa are buried. None of us had visited since the last graveside service almost 20 years ago, and it took some exploring to find the marker. I felt closer to Grandma and Grandpa there at their grave than I had on the street in front of their house.

Cemeteries are where one finds another sort of stone, markers of lives that grew up like grass, and withered and died, most with life spans briefer even than flimsy wooden houses and certainly shorter than those huge stones people built neighborhoods around fairly recently. At the end of time, we read in 2 Peter, “… the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

Indian Rock and all the granite in the Sierras, though it’s been around longer than we can imagine, will be gone, along with houses and gravestones. Then what is most enduring, the souls into whom God breathed life, will be raised. We are what on this earth is eternal.

9 thoughts on “How long will the rocks of Berkeley last?

  1. Oh, Gretchen Joanna, this is just lovely. What a wonderful day, such gorgeous houses. I would have loved to have grown up in that grey one, like your father did. I hope he appreciated living in a fairytale cottage! I'm so glad you had such a good day with your sisters.

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  2. What a beautifully written post, GJ! I love the thought you put into this work. I felt I was strolling and reviewing these places with you and your sisters. What memories! And doesn't it make you feel rather like a keeper of something small and precious, to be just a handful of people who CAN remember them. We must pass on such things.

    How true that all will be burned up, and then remade, for eternity. I remind myself of our creed though, which is so astounding: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” So those decaying forms in the ground, over which you stood, will be raised — those very bones and flesh! — and made new. We sometimes dismiss our bodies, assuming they're only inconsequential vessels for a temporary travel. But in reality, they are as eternal as our souls. Somehow, we forget this. I don't know why.

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  3. Smiles and tears and hope and joy as I trod with you vicariously reading of this day you shared. I am so glad for you all that you had this time together, then and now and forward in the forward time of joy beyond the rocks of time.

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  4. What a lovely post. I loved walking with you in the paths of your childhood. I will just add, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will no longer be any death; and there will no longer be any mourning, crying or pain; because the old order has passed away.” And even so Come Lord Jesus.

    I loved this post so much. Thank you.

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  5. M.K., I so agree about the resurrection of the body. I heard it expressed that the Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul by itself, but we Christians also believe in the resurrection of the body. I thought a lot about this as I was composing the last lines here, and I used “soul” with its meaning of “human person” in mind, and as it described Adam when his body was breathed into.

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