As our time in California winds down, we’ve been hitting the road for some last-minute fun. We finally took advantage of living in bigger cities and got tickets to a professional sporting event in the form of an Oakland A’s game. Let’s just say that Oakland is exactly like what you might think – a little rough around the edges and passionately loud about their sports.
We had awesome seats in the upper deck right behind home plate. Since the O.co coliseum is on the smaller side, even sitting in the upper deck gave us a great view in which we could literally see the path of the pitches as they crossed the plate.
The A’s had been on a winning streak, even scoring a walk-off home run win against the Seattle Mariners the night before. However, we must have brought some bad luck because Seattle won the night we were there. Even so, we still enjoyed being at the ballpark, as well as as our traditional baseball dinner of hot dogs and peanuts.
A few days later we headed back down the interstate to explore Berkeley. Since Charlie worked the night before and needed to sleep some that morning, we only really had the afternoon to look around. Despite skipping a lot of famous Berkeley sights or “must-dos,” we still had a great time visiting a couple of places our guidebook recommended!
Our first stop was the Bancroft Library on Cal’s campus. Our Lonely Planet book describes this as a “rare manuscript library which is open to the public and houses all of Mark Twain’s surviving papers, as well as the letters from the doomed Donner Party. Register at the front desk and spend an afternoon exploring.” We both love history and thought it would be cool to take advantage of the opportunity to see some original historical documents – you know, for like an hour or so…just casually leaf through some interesting papers and head out for ice cream after.
What actually happened is that after we registered (involving giving our driver’s license numbers in case we stole anything and they had to hunt us down), we entered a room that was completely bare except for several large desks. No books, no comfy chairs to read Twain’s civil war letters. Just a sterile space with a wiry woman behind a counter looking at you like she can’t imagine what you might be doing there.
Us: “Um…hi. We’re just visiting and read somewhere that we could look through some original papers of Twain or maybe even some letters from the Donner Party…is that possible?”
Woman: “What is your research for?”
Us: “Uh…we’re just tourists. Did you know you’re in the California Lonely Planet guide? You might want to check out their description of coming here…”
Woman: “Well, the Twain papers are on the fourth floor. You’re on the second floor.”
Us: “Ok…could we maybe check out some letters from the Donner Party?”
Woman: “Sure. Which specific letter would you like to look at?”
So that is how we looked like little kids trying to play in the big important library! She was so nice to us, but clearly was not used to people just popping in to see their rare papers as part of a tourist stop in Berkeley. We finally just told her we’d like to see anything from the Donner party – whatever she thought would be most interesting.
Once she picked a letter, we sat down at one of the sterile desks. Ten minutes later, a woman comes over with an acid-free box and gives us instructions for handling the documents. Inside the box are three letters from a girl named Virginia Reed written between 1847 and 1862. One was to her cousin Mary describing her experience coming West with the Donner party. Mary was making the trip the following spring, and this letter gave advice for avoiding the trouble they encountered (“don’t take shortcuts; resist selling your belongings too early for food – it will always be worse later, and you’ll be left with nothing”). We actually read Virginia’s one-sentence description of how several members of their party chose to stay alive by consuming the bodies of the deceased. Imagine being Mary reading that, knowing you’d be on a similar journey soon! It was a little surreal.
Another document – we’re actually holding paper and envelopes from 1847! – was Virginia’s letter to a man named McGlashan who wrote the most comprehensive account of the Donner party tragedy. Virginia didn’t sign her name and instructed McGlashan to burn the letter because she wanted no ties to him. She just wanted to tell him what she thought of his assessment and thank him for making it clear that her family was the only one that did not participate in the horror he described.
The final letter was written twenty years later to Virginia’s husband. By this time, she was settled in San Jose, CA, and he was a Union soldier fighting in Virginia. She begs him to write to her more often so she won’t worry so much. She also spends a paragraph describing that God is good and she trusts the comfort He will bring her during the extreme hardship of their separation.
I love knowing we are in a relationship with an eternal God! It was really encouraging to us to run our fingers over the words Virginia wrote 150 years ago describing her trust in the Lord’s goodness despite how hard things seemed around her at the time.
After we’d absorbed all we could of Virginia’s fascinating correspondence, we headed off campus towards Telegraph Avenue. This seems to be hippy-central. Several people on the sidewalks looked like they hadn’t left (or bathed regularly) since Berkeley’s hey-day in the 60s! There were a lot of little stores selling all kind of things you might expect – crystals, retro jewelry, incense, etc.
However, in the midst of all this, was a brightly lit, modern little store front calling out to us.
That would be an awesome little shop where you can make your own ice cream sandwich by choosing your favorite flavors of warm, soft cookies and a huge scoop of ice cream. We chose one snickerdoodle and one oatmeal raisin with cinnamon caramel ice cream smashed in between. Then we high-tailed it out of there before we gave into the extreme temptation of standing in line all over again.
Next, we wound our way up to Shattuck Avenue. We stopped at the famous Cheeseboard Collective which sells hundreds of gourmet cheeses, as well as really yummy breads. It was really nice outside, so we ended up walking a couple of miles down Shattuck and into the bustling Berkeley Square area around University Avenue. We grab some coffee at a corner cafe and enjoyed people watching for a little bit before heading home.
While I loved our chance to read Virginia’s letters, the people we saw on the streets was the most interesting thing about Berkeley to me. On one corner, we saw a young guy from Greenpeace trying to encourage us all to save the Indonesian tigers. Later, we watched as a rougher-looking man clasped hands with someone walking down the street, closed his eyes, and started praying on the sidewalk, thanking the Lord for keeping his brother in Christ safe and for the blessing of seeing him again.
As much as I’m grateful for the Lord’s creation of nature, I think God’s much more interested in saving His people than saving the tigers. I would have loved to have bought that second man a cup of coffee and heard his story!