shelter /ˈshel-tər/, n.

When I was searching for my current apartment in Berkeley, a shared patio and proximity to parks were not on my lists of need-to-haves nor nice-to-haves. I realized in late April how lucky I was that I somehow ended up with both. 

Over the past three and a half years, I’d made a habit of opening my living room to friends. Those who knew me well teased me; the most introverted of their friend group had become a socialite who had homemade baked goods and tea ready every time they came over.

Coconut custard pineapple buns

How lucky I was to have chosen an apartment complex with a back patio tucked behind a parking garage, nestled between the backyards of two residential homes in such a way that it felt quiet enough for you to believe you were deep in suburbia rather than Berkeley. 

How lucky I was to live just a mile away from the UC Berkeley campus, where I could invite friends to picnic on Memorial Glade and enjoy the sunshine and each other’s company for so long that we lost track of time even as the Campanile tolled above us. 

At a time when being indoors with loved ones outside of your quarantine pod was (and is still) dangerous, I was so easily able to move my living room outdoors. The little patio came with three picnic tables, and I dug out the picnic blanket my ex had given me for a reason I have long forgotten but will forever be grateful.

Redwood Regional Park

As the summer days dragged on and distancing rules remained, I sought further solace by going on long drives around the Bay to create more outdoor living rooms. A mountaintop bathed in early morning sunshine and a beach obscured by fog in Point Reyes. Local parks in Fremont, San Mateo, and Danville where children rode their bikes in circles along the paved paths. Hills in Berkeley and El Cerrito overlooking the Bay at sunset. Dining room chairs set up in backyards and front yards. 

Over the past six months, I’ve spent more time outdoors—in urban parks, suburban sprawls, and regional wildernesses—than I have in years. Why had it been so long since I’d last sat outside simply to enjoy where I was and who I was with? 

During one of my patio dinners, my friend and I remained outside well past nightfall. While we were there, two different tenants descended the stairs from their apartments to smoke in the parking lot. Around 9 p.m., another neighbor took a FaceTime call on the stairs several feet above us. I remember how she was close enough for us to hear both sides of the conversation but still too far for us to make sense of the words.

I remember feeling that night, how this proximity of conversation and the distant company of strangers gave comfort. Here we all were, sheltering at home, finding ways to self-soothe and feel less alone. Here we all were trying to find comfort and hope in the shelters that we’d made for ourselves.

View from the Lawrence Hall of Science

After years of watching others move away, now it’s finally my turn. 

Leaving the Bay comes with my usual dislike for endings and goodbyes. But in light of the pandemic, civil unrest, and political and environmental turmoil plaguing the world right now—I realize just how lucky I have been over the past six months to have enjoyed good health and so many extra quiet, treasured moments with the people I love.

How fortunate I am to have communities and friends here who love me and make this place—my home—so difficult to leave. How grateful I am to have been able to find and make a shelter for myself in this corner of the world for so long.

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