There was some naked tree hugging in Berkeley on Saturday, even though it was cold out, and someone took lots of pictures.
Seventy-eight performance artists, models, protesters and their supporters stripped down for the camera in a grove of oak trees at UC Berkeley that could fall to make room for an athletic training center.
The au-naturel visitors joined a half-dozen activists who have lived in the trees since December to protest Cal's plan to raze the grove near Memorial Stadium.
Only five nudists actually climbed the trees. Everyone else found it more prudent to lie on the ground.
San Francisco photographer Jack Gescheidt arranged the nude photo shoot as part of his "Tree Sprit Project," a series of photos showing naked people in and around large trees.
"What I do is show people at the most vulnerable -- naked -- with trees to illustrate the relationship and beauty of nature," he said. "I hope to do a quiet, reverential photo of people and trees. . . . Humans are drawn to trees. They are important to us in ways that can be difficult to describe in words. My work is all about recognizing and capturing the power of that connection."
His photos tend to have an artistic, even reverential, tone, and this is the first project to be so overtly political.
"The people up in those trees are not crazy, they are doing something beautiful and important," Gescheidt said. "They don't need to destroy this grove."
UC wants to remove about three dozen trees to build a $125 million athletic training center that's part of a larger project that would also upgrade Memorial Stadium, which is bisected by the Hayward Fault and could collapse in a strong earthquake. An Alameda County Superior Court judge granted an injunction on Jan. 29 putting a halt, for now, to the plan, ruling that UC did not adequately address the seismic risks of building on or near an earthquake fault.
The participants in Saturday's photo shoot ranged from longtime nudists and activists to performance artists and dancers. Gescheidt has done a variety of nude photos, including a well-known picture of nude roller skaters going down a San Francisco street.
"This is an activity I am proud to support and honored to be part of," said Debbie Moore, a co-founder of Berkeley's nude theater troupe X-plicit Players. She said she has been arrested dozens of times and faced trial seven times for public nudity. "Besides, I never turn down a chance to take off my clothes."
Adriana Echandi, 18, said she was excited but nervous about her first foray into public nudity -- so much so that she would not say where she lives or where she goes to school.
"I didn't know what to expect," she said. "I'm glad it's warming up."
About a hundred curious onlookers gathered as the activists stripped down, and some broke out cameras and even camcorders to record the event for posterity or other reasons. A few burly young men wore clothing emblazoned with the words "Stanford Rugby." The team lost to Cal Saturday, 83-0.
"Don't say we're from Stanford," one player joked, using his hand to cover the Stanford logo on his shirt. "We'll be blamed if anything goes wrong."
Shawn Alexander, who came from Fresno to visit her daughter, Madison, at Cal, was a bit surprised to see naked people in trees.
"I can confirm there is nothing like this going on Fresno," she said with a laugh.
Her daughter could only shrug and say, "This is the perfect 'only in Berkeley moment' to show to your mom."
Most of the participants quickly clothed themselves after the shoot and left. But a few lingered, nude, to take photos. Jess Walsh has been living in one of the oaks since December, and she was in no hurry to put her clothes back on.
"I'm having too much fun," she said. "This is liberating. I feel totally free. I recommend that everyone try getting naked in a big tree sometime."
This article appeared on page B - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle.
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