Between Two Worlds

At almost the exact moment the sun slipped behind the hills leaving a brilliant salmon colored sky, the full moon rose over the shadowy marshes of the Palo Alto Baylands on the first evening of autumn. On opposite sides of my universe these two brilliant luminaries played off each other revealing more about this piece of earth midway between the domains of the ocean and of the air than might meet the eye at high noon or at midnight. Across San Francisquito Creek lights in kitchens came on one by one. A group gathered for a backyard barbecue. The sound of a Scott Joplin tune, its title now forgotten, floated in the air. Crickets sang as birds went silent.

As the sky grew darker, shapes close at hand grew dimmer. Geese clacked in the distance, gained volume, and appeared as a lopsided V formation on the horizon. They came closer and closer, flew directly overhead, and then disappeared into the southeastern sky. In the hills to the west and across the Bay to the east, distant lights began to twinkle and shimmer. A plane approached for a landing.

Civilization reluctantly relinquished its foothold. The illuminated green of a golf course fairway turned abruptly into a darkening tangle of marsh grass; an airport runway outlined in red lights cleanly cut a flat slice off the top of the jumbled and uneven bog. Shadowy forms of manzanita and coyote brush slowly yielded to tall reeds and rushes where the Bay turned solid ground to swamp.

A family strolled with their dog along a dirt path; another sat on the bank of a levee eating a late supper, kids laughing and playing in the bright darkness. Young people chatted as they listened to rock on the radio, the sound evaporating into the stillness. People walked, friends talked, runners passed each other, mothers pushed babies in strollers.

Why had so many of us left the light and comfort of our homes to come to the water’s edge to watch the moon? There we were, people of two worlds, unwilling and unable to forsake either. Who would forsake the world of the industrial, the technological, the medical, the comfort revolution? Not I. And who would give up the mountains, the oceans, the wildlife, the trees? So here we were, trying to reconcile these two worlds, able to see both in their best light.

Maybe they are not separate worlds after all. On a night like this their edges blur. It seems quite possible, even necessary, to live with a foot in each and an eye for both.

The sky grew darker, the moon rose higher, the distant lights glistened. A couple walked across the footbridge over the creek back to the kitchens, the lights, and the music. The rest of us remained, lost in the moment—suspended between summer and winter, the sun and moon, the air and water, the music and silence, civilization and the swamp.

The Palo Alto Baylands are east of Highway 101 at the Oregon Expressway/Embarcadero exit in Palo Alto.