A Typical Day at Baylands Nature Preserve

Near where we are currently staying is a stretch of public land called Baylands Nature Preserve, managed by the city of Palo Alto, California. It stretches along the San Francisco Bay and includes both salt and freshwater wetlands. This open space is a draw for remaining wildlife, especially birds. It is a small natural enclave that is faintly reminiscent of the great rich wilderness that once covered the Bay Area.

It is my go-to place.

Only 15 to 20 minutes away, I can decide to go there on short notice and enjoy a lovely walk in the open air with water views. There are always a variety of birds and other creatures.

Many open spaces and nature preserves can be visited along the San Francisco Bay on both the Peninsula and the East Bay coast. They are small sanctuaries for wildlife among densely populated cities. I have not visited most of them. The Baylands is easy to get to while the others entail stressful city driving and crossing vast bridges.

The birds are fewer this year. I don’t know if it’s from losses in the general bird populations or from the widespread availability of water from the onslaught of atmospheric rivers this past winter. Probably both. In pools that were crowded with water birds last year, there are only a sprinkling this year. One bird I am hoping to see again before we leave the area is the enchanting Black Skimmer.

Nature has been disrupted here for a long time. Development and industry are everywhere. I often daydream about what it must’ve been like before Europeans, before the industrial revolution, before modernity. I daydream about how the Central Valley was once home for millions upon millions of birds. I have a heartsick longing for the original wildness of America.

Sometimes I feel as if I can almost recall – see in my mind’s eye – something important from long, long ago. Perhaps from another life. It is both an intimate recollection and distant, both intense yet elusive.

Other cultures have words that try to capture this. Germans have the expression “sehnsucht” which describes a painful yearning for something one cannot precisely explain. In Welsh, there is “hiraeth,” a homesickness for something you cannot return to, for lost places or even places that never existed. Certainly I yearn for something that has not existed in my lifetime yet is still known in the deeper reaches of ancient memory.

These complex and inchoate feelings are common when I’m in nature. They appears when beauty, grief and wonder are braided together.

Below are a selection of recent photographs from walking the Baylands.

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