At the Palo Alto Baylands, the sights and sounds that catch one's attention are as likely to come from above as from below.
Quacking ducks flap deliberately across a light-blue sky before landing to nibble on green vegetation. Gulls float more serenely on the air currents, with wings outspread, but just as soon break the silence with a shriek or yell. A murmuring propeller plane flies low to land at the adjacent Palo Alto Airport; any birds in the way dart quickly aside.
The surface, though, isn't without activity. In one of the waterways that meander through the marshlands, ducks shove off from a small cove and spread out like sailboats across the water. Their movements are observed and documented by a man with a camera and tripod. Farther off, in the center of the Baylands, hundreds of birds meet, white dots congregating for some mysterious purpose.
Other winged creatures are only fleetingly visible through brush, such as a brown bird with a thin, dangling beak that flits along one channel. And somewhere, over the miles of marshland, foxes and rabbits lie hidden.
The landscape too has its own character and life, one that changes with the light and wind. The water reflects clouds that are illuminated by the setting sun. The tones of the plant life vary from gray to mud brown to almost burnt orange, and the finger-like branches of an occasional tree or bush sway in the moaning wind. Tiny swells punctuate the surfaces of the wider waterways; their soft lapping produces whispers that can only be heard down by the banks off of the trails well-used by runners and cyclists.
Painted in pastel hues, the bay and the eastern hills beyond are visible through the power lines and towers that gird the marshlands in an unusual embrace. In the distance a feathered flock flies together in tight formation, rising and falling like an undulating sheet, or some serpentine dragon out of ancient lore.
Slowly the pinks and purples have changed to periwinkle and then darker blues. The light over Skyline Ridge begins to dim, and a full color spectrum rises from the jagged edge to the sliver moon above.
A few more planes glide in over the marshlands and touch down in the gathering darkness. Adults and children file back to their automobiles, heading back to a warm meal and their favorite TV shows.
But the birds and the brush and the water remain to await the light's return.