Lake Merritt or Merritt Lagoon Oakland, California

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! A squealing cormorant— comes in for a landing!

The white breasted bird skims the surface of the water like silk. It catches its webbed feet on the repurposed tread of a rubber tire and settles on the curved platform. In an avian display, which has already not gone unnoticed, it unfolds its wings, half-way, to bathe them in a patch of newly acquired sunshine.

Walkers at different phases of the lake’s circumference look up from their smart phones, pull out their ear buds, drop headphones onto their necks. Even a homeless man, dressed in too many layers for the weather, stops to wonder. Somebody shouts, Save the ducks! And the cormorant disappears, headfirst, under the water.

Oakland’s Lake Merritt, located just east of downtown, ranges in depth from eight to ten feet, and spans some one hundred and forty acres. Recognized as America’s first National Wildlife Refuge in 1870, the lake and surrounding parkland is extraordinarily rich with plants, and marine and animal life—including humans.

Lake Merritt is called the Jewel of Oakland, or an urban oasis in the heart of a city which unfortunately, is often depicted with meaner terms. But whatever we want to call Lake Merritt, there’s no big secret—it’s not a lake. It’s a lagoon complete with salt water crabs, and other salt and fresh water species, plankton to fish and water fowl that makes the ecosystem so diverse and unique.

Back in the day, when Samuel Merritt installed a dam between the bay and the estuary on the 12th Street end, it allowed the water level to rise and become less salty. Maybe this caused the lagoon to look more like a lake, but it still has the salt water current that changes direction twice a day in sync with the tides.

Our misnomer was probably not intentional, unless it was dubbed a lake to attract more tourists to Oakland from San Francisco, nor is the name refuted as a misrepresentation by environmentalists or politicians, that I know of—But, as just one of thousands of Oaklanders who pride themselves on running, riding, walking, or scootering its stunning three and a half mile perimeter, it is of some note— in an age of alternative facts— that calling our lagoon a lake feels so comfortable.

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