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A dried up waterfall at Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland.

Climbing stairs at Joaquin Miller Park

on December 1, 2016

A 30-something, slightly overweight woman clad in yoga pants, Adidas and an electric blue athletic pullover, as if she frequents an overpriced workout class, stares begrudgingly at the stairs before her.

She waits, looking at those stairs, like they have done something personally to her. Finally, after what feels like 30 minutes, she lets out a long “huff” before taking her first step on the gray cracked stairs at Joaquin Miller Park. It’s a wonder she hasn’t fallen on the extremely uneven and poorly-maintained 200 hundred steps that lead up to the Woodminster Amphitheatre at the top of the hill. She’s climbed up and down several times now, and each time, she waits and stares at those bottom steps just a little bit longer.

A park employee passes by her on one of her many trips up the stairs. His Army green uniform shirt bears a patch with the words “Building Maintenance” on it, although there isn’t a building in sight. The employee stops about halfway up the stairs and pulls a large keyring out of his pocket. He fumbles with the keys like he’s gotten a very important order from his superior for a good five minutes before promptly putting them back in his pocket and moving on to his next super important mission.

The park is tranquil and noticeably empty. You can hear the occasional bird chirping and more than occasionally hear the airplanes thundering overhead, headed to the Oakland International Airport.

At the bottom of the hill, in the park’s main area, an oval fountain filled with obviously artificially-colored water is surrounded by dogs. A brown and black striped pit bull and a small wiener dog play alongside each other as their owners sit on the park’s benches and chat about their daily troubles.

A blonde, curly-haired mom in light washed jeans and a sweater walks with her eyes drawn to her phone while her toddler, maybe 2 years old, crawls alongside her, equally consumed with his large yellow tractor, which is almost as big as his body.

A golden retriever sits on a step alongside the once-flowing waterfall’s edges, as if the world is his oyster. He seems to be smiling, with his tongue hanging out. For a moment, you could get caught up in the dog’s happiness, and forget all the bad things that happen in the world. That is, until his owner calls out for him and he goes running, snapping you out of this trance.

Up the hill, towards the park’s waterfall, the lack of water flowing is glaringly apparent. The dead, brown grass that surrounds the waterfall is yet another example of California’s drought woes. The plants and grasses have grown into the cracks in the stairs and surrounding areas, as if they have never been trimmed. It may lead you to believe the park has been unloved or abandoned, but for those that frequent its paths, that’s just how they like it.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

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