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Palo Alto Baylands

Started: 2020-12-13 19:32:50

Submitted: 2020-12-14 19:07:37

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator takes his child to Baylands

As a kid growing up in the Bay Area, my father would take me to Palo Alto Baylands on Saturday afternoons to visit the duck pond and walk along the salt marshes. On one visit, when I was probably five years old, I slipped through a hole in the railing along the side of the boardwalk stretching out into the bay and fell into the salt marsh. My father pulled me out of the water and took me home for a bath to wash off the mud and salt from my unexpected excursion into the bay.

The first time I visited Baylands as an adult was in 2012, when I visited a customer in the Santa Clara Valley for a work trip. The duck pond was smaller than I remembered, but the boardwalk was still there, reaching out into the salt marsh at the edge of the bay to the shallow salt water, with the twin high-voltage transmission lines high overhead and the Dumbarton Bridge in the haze to the north and the and the salt flats in Newark across the water to the east.

The next time I visited Baylands was in 2018; by that time, the boardwalk (which looked as if it could have been the original boardwalk from my childhood) had collapsed into the salt marsh somewhere in the middle, and a temporary barrier had been erected to keep me from falling into the water again.

Boardwalk at Palo Alto Baylands stretching into San Francisco Bay
Boardwalk at Palo Alto Baylands stretching into San Francisco Bay

I visited Baylands again when I moved back to California this summer (on the day I started my job), and I saw that in the intervening two years the boardwalk had been entirely replaced by a brand-new, higher and wider boardwalk still tracing the same path from the nature center (itself perched on stilts over the salt marsh, next to a levee at the edge of the bay) to the water; at high tide the salt marsh dropped away under the choppy water churned up by the evening breeze. I couldn't smell the salt spray behind my mask, but I could feel the breeze blowing across the bay and hear the water lapping against the boardwalk and the marsh grass blowing in the breeze.

Boardwalk stretching into San Francisco Bay
Boardwalk stretching into San Francisco Bay

On Saturday I took Julian to visit Baylands, explicitly taking one of my children to visit one of the places I visited and enjoyed when I was a child. (I didn't tell him the story of my unexpected swim in the bay until we got back home.) We parked at the Duck Pond, where Julian wanted me to take a picture of a seagull perched on a pole surrounding the pond. We walked past the duck pond (which was mostly empty of ducks in the winter) and along a trail leading next to a slough, where there were hundreds of birds wading through the shallow water and walking on long legs through the mud; in particular I noticed an American avocet digging its long beak into the mud to eat brine shrimp.

American Avocet
American Avocet

We walked past the slough and found its outlet, where two concrete pipes had been laid under the road to let the tide fill and drain the slough. The tide was ebbing from the morning's King Tide, approaching one of the lowest low tides of the year during a winter new moon, and we could see two small whirlpools in the surface of the water where the water was draining into the pipes. We crossed the road and saw the outlet, where the pipes were disgorging turbulent water into the muddy slough, with several feet of mud clearly visible below the tide line. Julian was fascinated by the current and climbed up on the railing to look out at the water.

Julian looks out at Baylands
Julian looks out at Baylands

We headed towards the boardwalk leading out into the salt marsh, and stopped to look out at the bay, where the salt marsh stretched out into the bay. Julian looked through the observation telescope mounted to the deck outside the nature center, but seemed about as interested in the massive transmission towers as the wildlife at the edge of the bay.

Julian looks out at San Francisco Bay
Julian looks out at San Francisco Bay

Julian has internalized the lessons of physical distance for COVID-19 well enough that he wanted to wait until all of the people walking in our direction down the boardwalk had passed us before we started out on the main section of the boardwalk. (We were outside, and absolutely everyone was wearing masks, and there was about enough space to leave six feet between people going in opposite directions. Julian still insisted on pressing himself into the railing to give as much space as possible.)

Julian eats a snack at the end of the boardwalk at Baylands
Julian eats a snack at the end of the boardwalk at Baylands

At the end of the boardwalk I looked out into the mud at the end of the salt marsh. The tide was low enough that I could clearly see where the mud under the pickleweed and marsh grass that made up the salt marsh was eroding into the mud flats that stretched out into the bay. It's not totally obvious in the picture here, but most of the foreground is mud, exposed by the low tide, with only a thin sheen of water glistening on top; the nearest water of any depth is out beyond the end of the point marked by the salt marsh, visible here only as a thin strip on the horizon (though that's a trick of perspective; in reality there were several miles of open (albeit shallow) water between me and the opposite shore).

Sand Point and San Francisco Bay at low tide
Sand Point and San Francisco Bay at low tide

I was amused that there were glass windows in the railing on the boardwalk to provide smaller children (like Julian) the ability to look out into the mud flats at their own level.

Julian looks at the mud flats in San Francisco Bay
Julian looks at the mud flats in San Francisco Bay

We headed back down the boardwalk, then returned home with a stop in Sunnyvale to pick up Indian takeout for supper.

Julian walks back to the nature center at Baylands
Julian walks back to the nature center at Baylands
The Journal Entries must continue.
- Me, in 01 November 1997 entry
(written 08 November 1997)