Take a walk someplace new: A personal essay

photo of Berkeley
Lia Keener/File

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Oct. 31 — Halloween day 

I walked around the streets and neighborhoods of North and West Berkeley, basking in the late-afternoon glow of the sinking sun and the festive fervor in the air. 

Sidewalks strewn with fallen leaves were crowded with families and kids, most of them dressed in costumes, toting bags of candy and goodies. I saw countless Hogwarts students, pirates, ladybugs and even a squid or two. Even some of the dogs accompanying their families were in costumes. 

Houses, too, were dressed up for the evening. Ghosts, spiderwebs, bats, pumpkins, tombstones and more covered the yards, fences and walls of the buildings I walked past. Halloween was everywhere I looked. 

I got to live vicariously through others while embarking on this Halloween walk. I was alone and very out of place — a young adult, not in costume, skirting around family groups and hoards of trick-or-treaters — but that walk filled me with a lot of joy. The joy of observing the joy of others, of reminiscing on my Halloween festivities as a kid, made this Halloween incredibly special.

Some folks offered me candy from their trick-or-treat bowls, but I refused. The candy wasn’t meant for me. And I just wanted to experience Halloween through the lens of the Bay Area community, separate from that of campus. 

As it did on Halloween night, walking moves me, physically and mentally, out of the college bubble and into the “real” world of the families, communities and lives beyond Berkeley’s campus within the Bay Area. As college students, it can be easy to confine ourselves to campus and the areas directly adjacent to it, but there is so much to see beyond its borders. 

The sidewalks, the stores, the roadside plants — everything is new, even if I’ve seen them before. Plants grow, rain falls, erosion occurs, things change. 

In one of my classes this semester, we read a poem entitled “They Didn’t Get Me” by Alma Luz Villanueva. Part of it goes:

“the streets soaked up

oil & blood & rain & tears & dog shit & footsteps & 

love &

children’s games & lives & piss & stunted trees …”

That is what I see more of when I go for long, meandering walks outside of campus. I walk by restaurants, parking lots, grocery stores, gas stations, libraries, schools, parks, basketball courts. I see birds in the trees overhead, cats lounging on the porches, dogs panting from the other side of fences. I pass by countless people, and I wonder. How many people have walked where I am walking now? How many dogs have peed on that fire hydrant? Who are they? Where are they now? I want to know.

It’s too easy to get caught up in life on campus, to get overwhelmed and to forget about everything else. When I am upset, I like to go up to the Fire Trails east of campus. From the vantage point of the Fire Trails, I find context. I find clarity. I find composure. 

Campus is no larger than a postage stamp, and the Campanile is no bigger than a matchstick. It is a small corner of the broader Bay Area, an unassuming swath of roads and buildings and trees and houses, all merging and blending together, blanketed by the haze and fog of the East Bay. There are no clear distinctions between campus and the rest of the Bay, so why should we live our lives as though there is? 

Walking draws me out of my comfort zone and places me in new environments, new settings, new situations. I get to see new places, meet new people and develop more of a sense of place here in the Bay Area. 

There’s so much to see and appreciate beyond campus, and exploring helps me think more realistically and optimistically about life after college. These walks remind me that college isn’t everything, and that I don’t need to panic about graduating. Life goes on outside of college. 

Once, I was a kid fully immersed in trick-or-treating, walking squarely down neighborhood streets, costume and candy in place. Now, I am a college student, walking around families and thinking wistfully back to my childhood that really wasn’t that long ago. Maybe, several years from now, I’ll be one of the parents, accompanying my child(ren?) as they trick-or-treat. 

But for now, I will continue to walk, letting my feet connect me more with the Bay Area and its people for my remaining time as a student at UC Berkeley.

Contact Lia Keener at [email protected]