Lament for Oakland’s Garber Park

We read this article in the Spring issue of Hills Conservation Network’s newsletter (the link goes to a PDF), and it resonated with us who want to save Sutro Forest’s habitat. Ecological destruction, whether from building and traffic, or from “restorations” inevitably impact wildlife, micro-climates, and atmosphere. It happened in Garber Park, and still continues. This could be the fate of Sutro Forest.

The article is republished here with permission and minor edits.


I have been thinking about our Garber Park neighborhood and how it has changed over the past 25 years that we have lived here on Evergreen Lane. I have been thinking how habitat has altered since 1986 and how the overstory of greenery has declined.

In 1986,Evergreen Lane was truly evergreen. In September of 1987, I recall that our neighbor, Mr. Garfield, a professor at Cal, described it as a “magic street.” At that time the street looked like a green tunnel, with big trees on both sides all the way down to Garber Park. A giant eucalyptus tree stood majestically at the intersection of Evergreen and Slater Lane. The air was cool and fresh, invigorating with the moisture of shaded land.

For several years after we moved into our house, deer abounded. There were spots below our home where they rested during the day. When the heat became extreme in late summer, the deer found cool places to sleep under our house. Often, in the fall, we would see male deer butting heads down the hill, while the does hid in the deeper tree growth.

There were raptors perched in the oak trees and hawks flying across the skies. We would see bats fly by the windows at night. And, at certain times of the year, we would hear owls calling to each other in the dark as they waited to spy mice and other small night-time venturers. Every night, we would be greeted by a mother raccoon and three babies eager to hunt for crumbs that might have dropped from the picnic table on the deck.

Mobs of robins arrived to find berries before they embarked on their migratory journeys. We enjoyed watching the abundance of spiders, tiny orange fellows that would spin their webs on plants in summer, adding dashes of color among the greenery. It was beautiful to watch them spin their slivery architecture; their webs were jewels that reflected the dappled sunlight.

Wild bumble bees built a hive under the house, and yellow jackets would visit us when lunch was outdoors, snatching tiny bits of food from the tablecloth. We had a water snake living in our garden for several years. In the garden, we also hosted voles and, once in a while, we would spot the woodland pack rat, an intelligent, clean animal.

Now, when we look around us, we see changes everywhere. Nature no longer seems as close as it used to be. When we look down at the arena where the bucks once battled, it is empty. It has been years since those scenes occurred. The path between houses here where we often saw three or four deer ambling down together is seldom used. We had one doe and a fawn visit last summer under the house, but they stayed for only a day, then disappeared. We spotted one deer resting down the hill this last year.

We know fatalities have occurred due to heavier and faster traffic on Claremont Avenue; that may account for part of the loss. But we suspect that the deer may miss the trees and bushes that have been removed over the years. Careless pruning has opened up much of the green overstory that once existed.

The raccoon population was bothering a neighbor so raccoon families were trapped and taken away as nuisances. Few have been our way since that time. This last year I counted only four or five cobwebs in the garden.The bumble bees have disappeared, as have the yellow jackets. Wild bees’ nests were destroyed by people who believe that bees’ nests house “dangerous pests.” Someone used a shovel to kill the water snake. Its body was left to rot in the sun.

The robin activity was much lower this year. Perhaps they miss the berries; many of the berry bushes have been removed because they are said to be invasive; they are “not the right kind,” except that the robins really liked them.

We read that rat poison is spread in parks discourage rodents. The poison moves up the food chain to destroy other species. We have never used pesticides or any other materials that would harm the abundant life that the park and the overhanging trees on Evergreen Lane once supported. Yet, the majority of the wildlife described above has disappeared.

Granted, the 1991 fire (which thankfully did not reach Evergreen Lane or go into Garber Park) and construction in surrounding areas have occurred in the intervening years since we have taken up residence here.

But the raptors are leaving us; a few hawks roam the area but lately I have seen or heard only one. Now, with more eucalyptus trees removed, the evening dance of the bats has also disappeared. We have no idea why so many animals, birds, and insects have left us.

Something in the environment has removed what they needed. We don’t know what it is. We know we miss the spontaneous and vibrant natural environment that greeted us here in 1986. Now we are scrubbed and clean. The bothersome species have been banished.

We miss the cool, scented evenings filled with moist, clean air. Dust is much more a part of our life now, seeping into our house through any crack or cranny, making us think twice before we throw open the sliders for fresh(?) air.

With all respect to those who have come to restore Garber Park to its “native” beginnings and have worked hard to remove built up debris, we can’t help but long for that time when venturing into the Park was a near wilderness experience with dark, cool overhead coverings and the unexpected rush of an animal disturbed in its quiet retreat from the heat.

I understand that the work that is going on in Garber Park is well intended… I also feel the magic slipping away.


[Note: The Garber Park photographs illustrating this article are by Bindu Frank and used with permission. The animal pictures are NPS public domain photographs. ]

This entry was posted in Environment, nativism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Lament for Oakland’s Garber Park

  1. Alicia snow says:

    This article was so beautifully written that it brought tears to my eyes. How terribly sad this all has become.

  2. Pingback: Our EXISTING Wildlife Habitat Is Being Destroyed For Native Plants « Coyote Yipps

  3. harry says:

    Why is this allowed to happen over and over again? Where are the real environmentalists working to control this scenario? This is exactly what we fear for Sutro forest and worse. The environmental load of the nativist plan to pour roundup and garlon all over everything that isn’t native is causing cancer, killing animals and generally ruining california. They are a toxic lot. They are tied to Monsanto and Dow, even though the leaders pretend they never heard of either company. Right.

Comments are closed.