Summer takes UC Berkeley students near and far. Some go home, some stay in town, and some explore new territory. But all return with tales of memorable exploits, ranging from the hysterical to the profound. Below are six of these stories, as told by the students themselves to The Weekender.
I worked this summer on an urban farm in Downtown Berkeley called Urban Adamah. I worked with 12 other people, and we all lived in a house and worked on the farm together.
We would split up the chores we had to do, and we switched every month. So one month, my chore was to milk one of the three goats we had at the farm. The farm was on San Pablo and Parker. It was so bizarre that I was surrounded by a city but also in a goat pen. The goat’s name was Fiona. I would milk her at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day.
So I would be just biking around Oakland or shopping at Berkeley Bowl and realize I had to go milk the goat. Or I would be on campus with friends who weren’t working at the farm, and I’d have to leave to milk the goat, and it was the weirdest excuse.
The best part of taking care of the goats was that we would take them on walks around Berkeley once a week. The three goats were named Fiona, Merlin and Zima. They were all really aggressive, and they never stopped being hungry. So I had leashes that I put on their faces, and then I would walk them with one other girl. We also had to carry a broom with us so we could sweep off their poop from the sidewalks.
Goats never stop pooping. When they poop, it looks like a flower is opening up and little blueberry balls are falling out. And they’re just so unaware that they’re pooping that they won’t even stop walking. They’re just walking, and these balls of poop start dribbling down the sidewalk.
The goats all feed off of each other’s poop energy — once one of them poops, they’ll all start pooping. And it takes so long to sweep the poop off the sidewalk.
“The goats all feed off of each other’s poop energy — once one of them poops, they’ll all start pooping.”
So we’d just be walking down the street with these goats. And everyone’s reactions were so different. People would see them and think that they were just dogs, and then at the last minute they’d double-take, but it would be too late to ask questions. Other people seemed used to having goats walk by, and they were just annoyed by the poop. It’s really hard to sweep goat poop balls, and while you’re sweeping, the goats start getting really rowdy. They’re basically walking you.
I worked at Camp Ramah this summer in the Ojai Hills. I previously went there as a camper for two summers, and I was on the staff for two summers after that. I was looking for a new position with a little more meaning, so there’s a special-needs track within the camp that I worked for as a counselor.
The kids are ages 11 to 23, and they have a whole slew of disabilities. A lot are on the autism spectrum, a few have Aspergers. One of my campers was Stella, a 23 year old with Down syndrome. She’s usually very nonverbal. She’ll say, “Yee” or “Hi,” but that’s it. She would giggle and laugh a lot, but there was also a week when she was crying the whole time. And it’s sad, because you can’t help her, because she can’t express anything that she feels.
Kids with Down syndrome, especially teenage girls, need a lot of reassurance and a lot of affection. Teenage Downs girls are typically very self-doubting, but she couldn’t articulate any of this. She had been coming to camp for eight years, and counselors did their best to gauge how she was feeling, but there’s only so much you can tell from slight mouth movements.
She was my bunkmate for four weeks in a canvas tent where we lived with five other campers and two counselors. Every day, I got her dressed, took her to the bathroom and held her hand. The last week of camp, I decided to try something different because she was a little sluggish. She was in a slump, and it was very frustrating. Imagine somebody telling you what to do and not being able to say, “No.” She’s constantly being given things to do, but she can’t retaliate or say anything back.
I thought she had plateaued, and it was my personal goal to have each camper grow at least a little bit, and I wasn’t getting anything from her. With one week left, I decided things needed to change. I was really affectionate with her, hugged her a lot, kissed her a lot. In the pool, I would swim with her and embrace her.
With four days left of camp, she had a 180 turnaround. One day, we came back from the pool, I was helping take off her bathing suit, and she grunts.
I said, “Stella do you have something to say?”
And she goes, “Nee-na! Nee-na! Nee-na! Yeah!”
I hit the floor, peeing my pants laughing. It was insane. I said, “Stella do you want to talk more?”
She said, “I can talk. Sister! Nee-na, nee-na!”
So, this chick has been conning us all summer. She’s been conning the camp for, like, eight years. Apparently, she talks a little bit at home, but nobody had ever seen this. Then she started giggling.
I was shaken up. The fact that she felt comfortable after eight years to finally say something was a feat in itself, but also just for her it was huge. To be 20-something years old and have saying a sentence be such a profound accomplishment is just very touching. I got her on camera saying, “Hi, Annie!” She also found love at camp with another nonverbal camper named Gabe. I’ve never seen a connection like the one they have. For her, camp is such a haven and place of growth.
This summer, I went to Indonesia with my brother. We went to four different regions, one of them being West Papua. This is one of the least developed regions in the world.
We went on a four-night, five-day trek, and met the guy that would be our guide pretty much after we got off the plane. We started a trek to the Baliem Valley, staying at villages along the way.
The third day, we had to take makeshift trails that were held up with rotting pieces of wood, leading us around drastic cliffs. If you fall, you die. It was pretty scary. The guides kept telling us, “One more minute, one more minute,” but it took like five more hours.
By the end of this 15-mile trek up and down cliffsides, I’m really tired and I’m with the porter we were traveling with. We are both looking down, and when I look up and there is a man wearing only a feathered crown and a boar’s tusk through his nose. He’s completely naked other than a penis gourd called a koteka, and he’s carrying a war axe. But he was pretty calm. The porter with us didn’t speak this guy’s language. I tried speaking Indonesian with him but that didn’t work.
So he’s staring at me, he’s naked. He doesn’t really seem like he’s about to kill me, but I couldn’t just walk by him. Eventually the guide got up to us and we passed this man.
When we arrived at the village, we were hugged and greeted by five more men in penis gourds. We stayed in huts that night.
The next day wasn’t as treacherous hiking. But the scariest thing, I think, that happened to me happened that night. It was raining, so we went to find shelter in this schoolhouse. So I’m inside this house with my brother drinking coffee and a woman comes in. As I was shaking her hands, I realized her face was drooping and she didn’t have fingers. She looked like she had leprosy, which is contagious. We only had a tiny bit of Purell, which we used, but it was still scary.
“So it was a choice: rabies, malaria or leprosy. So I slept in the bed.”
My brother was taking a nap in one of the beds and I went into the cooking hut across from ours. There were two other women. I gave them cigarettes. One of them shook my hand for a long time, and she also didn’t have fingers. Then I began to think that everything I had been touching — the beds, the cups, were all contaminated with leprosy. We couldn’t do anything though, it was raining and there was nowhere else to go. I tried to sterilize the bed with the antiseptic wipes I had, and I covered my bed with a new blanket and wrapped my face in a scarf. I was panicking. But I couldn’t sleep anywhere else because there were rats everywhere and I didn’t have a rabies shot. We also couldn’t sleep outside because this place is the malaria capital of the world. So it was a choice: rabies, malaria or leprosy. So I slept in the bed.
The next day we couldn’t find a doctor. I spent the next two weeks convinced I had leprosy. We encountered a guide two weeks later who told us that women in the tribe we had engaged with had to cut off their fingers if someone close to them died. So it turned out we probably didn’t contract leprosy. But the experience was still terrifying.
The last couple weeks of summer, I decided to go camping at Mount Shasta with my friend Sarah.
The day before we left we went to Berkeley Bowl and got $40 worth of groceries and packed my stove burner. We woke up early the next day and just started driving. Eventually, we found a cool campsite in McCloud, a little bit outside the city of Shasta.
One of the first days we got there, we did a long day-hike, so the next day, we decided to take it easy and find a lake or a waterfall. We talked to this guy at a coffee shop in the city of Shasta, and he said we should go to a place called Dead Falls Lake. He gave me perfect directions to get to the parking spot, and said it would be a 30-minute walk — not hike — to get to the lake. So we got there, parked and packed our lunches. I decided to wear my bathing suit, flip-flops and a tank top and loose pants, because it was a short walk.
A sign said “Dead Falls Lake” and “Pacific Crest Trail,” both pointing the same way. So we started. We had been walking for about 40 minutes and still hadn’t seen the lake, but assumed we were just walking slowly. Then, an hour had passed. We were walking at a steady incline, and at this point, my feet had really started to hurt, so I decided to go barefoot. We kept hiking for another 45 minutes. At that point, I didn’t know where we were — there was nobody on the trail and no signs. There had been a forest fire a couple hundred miles away, so the entire area was smoky, making the scene look incredibly eerie. We kept hiking, and at this point, I was dying to swim. We’d been hiking for two hours.
Then, our guardian angel, this guy with a giant backpack and compass, comes through. He showed us his map, and it turned out we were on the totally wrong trail. The route we were supposed to take was about half a mile, and we were on a trail that ran three miles to the lake and three miles back. I was doing this all barefoot, and we had been hiking constantly in anticipation of seeing this lake, which slowed us down even more.
We had a mile left, but I decided that I had to get to the lake. So we kept going. Sarah was getting worried because there was nobody around. There was nobody on this mountain. So we stopped again and sat on this big log and whipped out our lunches.
It was as if someone knew we were in desperation, because every time we were at a breaking point, someone would appear. This lady walks by with her dog and we ask her where the lake is, and she says, “Right here!”
It was literally right over this hill where we had been sitting eating for 30 minutes. Of course. We had finally made it to the the lake.
The lake was cool, but it wasn’t serene. It was just a lake. And at this point, we were worried, having some anxiety about getting back. Sarah tried to find someone to talk to about finding a shorter way back, but we ended up taking the long way. And I’m still barefoot, in flip-flops. My feet took two days to recover. But we finally made it back to the car.
It wasn’t funny when we were there. But now it’s hilarious.
I applied last spring to be a summer intern at the Shark Lab in Bimini, Bahamas, but I was rejected in March. I was heartbroken, because it was all I wanted to do with my summer. So I was spending the summer at home in Vermont volunteering at a lake when I got an email from the lab. I had written asking how I could improve my application for next time, and they responded telling me someone had dropped out of the program. They asked if I could come fill a spot at the lab the next week. I cried immediately — I had this whole summer set up at home doing all these different things. But ultimately, I decided to go. It was surreal. I hopped on a plane a week later and got to the Bahamas in the middle of a tropical storm.
There are 20 people living at the lab, eating and sleeping in this one building on this teeny island. Volunteers only come in and off the island once a month, and people drive golf carts around. We’d spend nine hours a day out in the water tracking sharks, catching sharks, and watching sharks. The two main projects at the lab were observing social networking among sharks and tracking every-day shark behaviors. Sharks were tracked with tags, so we’d spend the day cruising around this paradisal, glassy water with a hydrophone in the water, listening for beeps from the shark tags. We had to find the sharks, catch them in nets and take the tags off, then release them.
I’ve always been a total shark fanatic, and it was so cool to be around people who are also like that. I’m always the one telling people about sharks instead of learning new things, so it was so cool to be around people like me. We mainly studied lemon sharks, a common shark in the Caribbean. We often worked with juveniles — baby sharks — that were around 2 feet long and 2 to 3 years old. The first day, we learned how to catch them in a net and grab them. The first time I grabbed one, I had an indecisiveness — that was bad, because it makes them more likely to bite you. But the more comfortable you get holding them, the easier it gets. They have a tough, sand-papery skin, and they’re really strong, even though they’re small.
My last week there, we learned how to go nurse shark-wrangling. We had to catch nurse sharks from coral ledges for a research project, so a bunch of us from the lab took a little boat out to a coral ledge. Then we’d go upside down and underwater — I learned how to hold my breath for a really long time — and search the ledge for sharks. When you found one, you had to go all the way under the ledge and put your hand on the shark and drag it out from under the ledge.
Nurse sharks are chill because they just rest under the ledge — they’re the chillest of the sharks. But when you start dragging them out, they arch their backs so your hand hits the rocks and coral above them. So the interns and researchers are all proud when they come in from the ledges with “nurse-wrangling scars” and their hands all cut up from the coral. I thought going to the lab that shark bites were the bad-ass thing to get, but apparently, the only way to really get a shark bite is if something goes totally wrong.
“Right when the sun slipped out of sight everyone started clapping, and we just kept playing music.”
I think sharks are the most amazing animals on earth. I really, really love them. Four weeks later when I had to leave, I was so sad. I couldn’t believe it was a real job. I was working all day in a bathing suit, cursing like a sailor. I never want a job where I’m in an office now — this is absolutely what I want to do. I’m planning on going back. Like, immediately.
My dad worked at the Lair of the Bear, UC Berkeley’s alumni camp, for two years starting in 1977 as a cook at Camp Blue. My grandpa also worked there on the first staff at Camp Gold in the ’50s. So I’ve heard about the Lair my whole life, but I’ve never camped there. The summer before this — after my freshman year — I ended up being a parking attendant, and it was just the worst, work-wise. So after sophomore year, I decided to apply to work at the Lair of the Bear, because I wanted to do something fun again.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew I was going to be in the woods for three months and probably not on my computer that much. I drove up with a friend, and I saw my tent, and it was literally just four wooden bars — a frame with no roof, just a waterproof tarp.
A few times I went to a spot called Gargoyles — a Sunday sunset hike for the adults at camp. You leave camp, drive for about 30 minutes and go up about 1,500 feet on a bumpy road with brie, crackers and wine for the campers. You would get up there before the sunset, and it was unbelievable. There were pine trees for as far as you could see.
So you get up there, and there are these little cliffs — granite rock formations where you sit with the campers. In one of the last few weeks, I brought my guitar, and my buddy Max brought his trumpet. My other friend brought a guitar, and another buddy was doing percussion. So we were sitting on the edge of this giant cliff playing a couple of my original songs, including a song called “Summer Song” and another called “City Fog.” We were just playing music, not fully aware of our surroundings. Then we turned around and all the staffers were huddled up behind us listening, and a bunch of campers above are making their way closer also listening. And we just played for them for an hour.
There’s a tradition at Gargoyles — when the sun hits the horizon, you sit there in silence watching it until you can’t see the sun anymore. So one of our songs ended at the time when the sun was going, and then everyone sat in silence watching the sun go down. It was probably two minutes of dead quiet. Right when the sun slipped out of sight everyone started clapping, and we just kept playing music for another 30 minutes. Afterward, I remember thinking that no matter what happens in my future, that’s probably the coolest venue I’ll ever play at in my life.