Writing Together with Teens: In The Gardens at Lake Merritt, Oakland

On a sunny afternoon we meet, anxious to start, and enter The Gardens at Lake Merritt through the Northgate across from Fairyland Park. We follow the walkway shoulder to shoulder, and someone remarks, “Roses aflame in red-orange-gold!”

Passing great stalks of red rhododendrons, we arrive at a shady spot under the pine trees, complete with a waterfall. Notebooks are out, and pages are spread on a vacant picnic table as we begin with the opening lines of a poem by Murial Stuart.

The Seed-Shop

Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie

Faded as crumbled stone and shifting sand

Forlorn as ashes, shriveled, scentless, dry

Meadows and gardens running through my hand

_seeds in the palms of our hands by Shelley Wagner

We writers imagine the poor faded seeds, stuck indoors, and it inspires us to free the seeds! Sprinkle them all around! Push them into the ground and watch them grow.

We pause. I ask. “What if you were a seed. Where would you go?”

“Under a dash of dirt I’d soak up the rain,” one says.

“I’ve swollen to twice my size,” says another. “I need to sprout!”

We pause. I say. “Let’s finish the poem.”

Dead that shall quicken the voice of spring,

Sleepers to wake beneath June’s tempest kiss;

Though birds pass over, un-remembering,

And no bee find here roses that were his.


In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;

A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust

That shall drink deeply at a century’s streams;

These lilies shall make summer on my dust.


Here in their safe and simple house of death,

Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;

Here I can stir a garden with my breath,

And in my hand a forest lies asleep.

Sensory garden, Lake Merritt, Oakland, by Shelley Wagner c. 2019

We pause again. I ask. “If you were a seed what would you say?”

Fingers curl around the pens. Pens glide across the pages. “I’m afraid of heights! I can’t get down. Help!”

“I’m floating on top of the breeze but scared of the hungry birds.”

“I’m stuck in the mud.”

We writers are far from home in this garden, and far from the distant traffic of downtown Oakland. We are buried, in the ready to explode so tenderly into flowers.

The pens are slowing for the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s.

Because, water is next; from a scientific point of view, from its clarity to the sound of its rushing, to the engineering that required to keep it flowing.

Small children are in the distance: laughing, running to explore the creek, calling to the parents who sit on blankets with picnic lunches.

“Come see this! Over here! Did you see it?”

I say, “Maybe a turtle, sunbathing.”

Turtle by Shelley Wagner

We gather our notebooks, and pass through the Japanese gate. Torii, it’s called. And someone cries, "Oh no!” Because once again, the Bonsai garden is closed.

The vegetables lead us to the fragrant herbs of the sensory garden, where we find a long, curved bench at the shady end—a place to think about plants, and to write what we’ve seen. We hoist a small one, onto the edge of a raised bed across from the lavender to take a picture from over the Zen fountain looking down.

On our way back, we read about Pollinator plants that draw the insects, bees and birds for gardens to survive. We chuckle at the Air Bee and Bee, modeled in Paris, but built in Oakland.

“Wait,” someone mumbles. “Has it been two hours? We have more to write.”

Source for The Seed Shop by Murial Stuart: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/112640 Copyright © 2006 - 2019 FamilyFriendPoems.com