Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Leaving the Baylands

When I was a lit
tle girl, in third grade and before California's Proposition 13 tax initiative all but eradicated school field trips, Mrs. Bears (yes, her real name) sent home permission slips with reminders to bring a sack lunch and to wear our galoshes to "The Marsh." We would be bird watching and learning about plant life by the Bay, about five miles east of our little school in the foothills. The day arrived and indeed it turned out to be rainy; all I can remember is trying to stay dry, and there is a faint mind's-eye picture of birds I had not seen before. I have been fascinated with the many varieties ever since, and attempted to learn some of their names by perusing my miniature Audubon guide. I have a terrible memory for obscure facts and cannot seem to remember half of the names, but I do recall "snowy egret." That was the bird one woman was describing to her male companion the other day as I took my regular jogging path through the same marsh which is now referred to as part of The Baylands. The City of Palo Alto website verifies my childhood memory that this was in fact referred to as "The Marsh" in the early sixties.
The Harriet Mundy Marsh, dedicated on October 23, 1982, extends from Lucy Evans Nature Interpretive Center to Sand Point. Harriet Mundy "discovered" the Baylands when she was advised to walk after a fall in 1959. She became a close friend of Lucy Evans and joined her in the resolve to help preserve the Palo Alto marshland. A $30 million private proposal to develop the Palo Alto Baylands for commercial and industrial use spurred Mundy to action. In 1960 she helped to circulate a petition which resulted in the City Council stopping development until a Baylands Master Plan was prepared. The naming of the marsh recognizes her continued perseverance and devotion to the marshlands.
When my girls and I moved to Palo Alto from Salt Lake City, I was coming home to the place where my father first started his career, the area where I was born. A time and a place to heal from life's injustices and tragedies. My brother, who lives in those same hills where we went to elementary school, tried to comfort me about my trunkiness for good Wasatch running trails. "Don't worry, Chris," he said, "you'll enjoy running on miles of open trails just across the freeway at the Baylands. Just cross under the freeway and you're there. You can run for twelve miles or more, with no cars to worry about." On a sunny summer morning, I set out on the prescribed running path and got a little depressed that all I could see was shallow, mucky water and brown hills in the distance. I knew I wanted to be here on the Peninsula, but missed those towering Utah mountains after all.

Over the next four years, the Baylands became a part of me. Memories of the third grade field trip gave way to new experiences running and biking the trail. More faint childhood recollections of my dad with his open cockpit airplane at the tiny Palo Alto municipal airport had their healing effect as I jogged the dirt path with small airplanes taking off, circling, and landing overhead. I learned to watch for snowy egrets and other unexpected wildlife just below the private planes. Though the Wasatch Mountain range had been a playground for my family, I have come to realize that flat places can also provide a connection with nature, and a sense of peace. For me, anytime there is water flowing--from the Bay, a river or stream--I am renewed. Thankfully, environmentalists and community activists in the 1960s saw the value in the Baylands and dedicated their passion to preserving this place as a haven for birds and for souls like mine.

As I prepare this week to move to a new community thirteen miles away, I jog the Baylands trail with more reverence and appreciation. "This trail didn't exist until passionate volunteers in the sixties worked to make it so," I whisper to myself with a smile. Today, activists
from every corner of the community help to maintain the Baylands: formally organized nonprofits such as Acterra, Save the Bay, and Environmental Volunteers, and weekend good works volunteers gathered by school and church groups. Lynn Hori, a biology teacher at Palo Alto High School, has worked for years with her classes to gain an understanding of this preserve by requiring community service as part of her class curriculum. Her passion and energy dedicated to the Baylands have touched the lives of high school students for decades.

Last weekend, a statewide outdoor volunteer effort organized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought families from the local congregations together to clean up the Baylands. Fathers, mothers, small children, and teenagers all worked together to make a difference for this special spot on the Bay and for all of us who find solace there. While I still miss the mountains where my family lived for eighteen years, I've been reminded often
at the Baylands that the world is still whole. When I see a snowy egret walking along the jogging path or a family of geese hissing from the wildflowers to protect their newly-hatched goslings, I am thankful that we all peacefully coexist in this haven on a water's edge of Silicon Valley.


AlisonH said...

Beautiful. Thank you.

lecycliste said...

As an acting naturalist for Palo Alto, I have the privilege of sharing the Baylands with schoolchildren and others who want to discover this salty-fresh habitat. I photographed many of the birds here 5 years ago, and came to appreciate their world.

It is indeed a healing place. We all need somewhere to go and renew, where we forget about real-world concerns like jobs and money for awhile. In nature, we can just 'be'.

After all, we are human beings, not human doings or human wage-earners.