In 2010, I wrote a post on the eve of my first day at the Sierra Club that I called “Sleepless in San Francisco.” Six years went by in a flash, and now both I and the Sierra Club are starting a new chapter — one you could call “Wide Awake in Oakland,” which is the home of our new national headquarters.
Crossing the San Francisco Bay to our new home after 124 years is a big move — but it’s one I feel great about. Although we had a long and eventful history in San Francisco, the Sierra Club has never been about any one place, and certainly not about any one city. Even in the 1890s, our members lived all over the Bay Area — including Oakland — and as far away as Southern California. When John Muir attended Club meetings, he took “the boat” from Oakland after riding on the train from his home in Martinez.
Muir spent some winters in San Francisco as a young man, but he lived for nature, wherever he found it. We think of him as rhapsodizing about mighty mountain ranges, but he also found time to admire the same Oakland hills that we can see from the windows of our new headquarters. He had plenty of time to admire them. When he finally made it to California in 1868, anxious to see Yosemite Valley, he decided against the “orthodox route” of train and stagecoach to the mountains. Instead, he took a boat across the bay and started walking south along what was then called “the Oakland Road” toward San Jose. From there he climbed Pacheco Pass for his first life-changing view of the distant Sierra Nevada.
I thought of Muir’s walk a few days ago when I joined a bunch of Sierra Club staff for a local service outing in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. We joined with a local grassroots community development group, The Unity Council, to spend the morning cleaning up a small local park named for Cesar Chavez. I bicycled from home to our rendezvous near the BART station, and then we all walked less than a mile to the park. Along the way, we crossed the old Oakland Road (now 14th St.) — the same road that John Muir used almost 150 years ago.
Much of the park was taken up with a new playground, a soccer pitch, and a basketball court. But toward the back was a short section of Oakland’s Peralta Creek. It briefly emerged from city culverts to flow through a shady, cool glade with butterflies and hummingbirds. It was beautiful — and prettier still after we hauled out a bicycle and other debris. Did John Muir stop to sit by this same creek to eat his usual lunch of bread? No one can say, but it’s certainly possible. What I am sure of is that Muir appreciated nature wherever he found it — not just in the granite “cathedrals” he found at the end of his long walk to Yosemite. Perhaps even more important — he believed that everyone should experience its beauty and that spending time in nature is good for you.
The Sierra Club has an amazing record when it comes to major lands protections like wilderness areas, national parks, and national monuments. What my day at the creek reminded me of, though, is the importance of nearby nature to any community.
We’ll never stop advocating for protecting the Arctic, the Grand Canyon, and other major landscapes. But from our new Oakland neighborhood, I’m looking forward to seeing the Sierra Club and our awesome volunteers do more to ensure that every kid has a creek, a meadow, or a hillside where they can experience the nature right around the corner.