From Lake Merritt to the Bay

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When I first moved to Oakland, Lake Merritt smelled funny. Like that puddle of murky water at the bottom of my fridge after it's been unplugged for a week. But soon, the smell went away. Turns out, Oakland was in the process of cleaning the lake. Making it nice again.

The lake had been reconnected to the bay, they said on the news. Reconnected to the bay? You mean, it was originally part of the bay. The internet told me Lake Merritt was actually a tidal lagoon. Curious, I decided to find where Lake Merritt met the bay. I read a tide chart, saw when the tide would be retreating, hopped in a kayak and paddled on the lake towards Alameda, where I heard the lake met the greater bay.

Eventually I reached a scary looking pipe, its insides were lined with clams, through which the lake's retreating tidal waters were being sucked. The idiot part of my brain promptly took over. "Looks great," I thought as the tide pulled me in. I ducked down as the clams and moss whizzed by my face.

If I'm seeing clams, doesn't that mean this is normally underwater? Gulp.

After a tense minute, I got dumped out the other end, over near Laney College. Wow! Sunlight! Air! I paddled on, letting the tide pull me towards my destination. And I made it!


It was a large metal grate underneath the 880, the metal bars caked with brown sludge and faded Dorito's bags. This was it!

Going back through the tunnel against the tide was much harder. Especially the part where I got chewed out by a patrol boat who told me I was in a restricted area. But I did it. I found the spot where Lake Merritt empties into the bay. Lake Merritt got reconnected, in my mind, and, yes, to the bay.

I hope the 21st century is defined by people reclaiming their relationship to their neighborhoods, parks, cities, country and one another. As for myself, I will continue reclaiming and investigating the spaces I inhabit.

Hopefully, next time, without getting sucked into a mossy pipe.

With a Perspective, I'm Bill Baird.

Bill Baird is a writer and musician. He lives in Oakland.