Mud Matters at Eden Landing


With the arrival of fall the nesting season is over and I am allowed to photograph in the South Bay again. Project managers also wanted me to photograph a construction project that is subdividing Salt Pond A12 into series of smaller managed ponds to serve as avian habitat. The ponds will be kept at different salinities. The session afforded my first look at the large scale project reconfiguring Salt Ponds E12 and E13 into a series of smaller managed ponds.


Heavy equipment constructing distribution ditches and flow control structures in Salt Pond E12.

The reconfiguration work occurs along the banks of Mt. Eden Slough, the “cradle of San Francisco’s salt industry” according to author John Sandoval. This section of former marsh is where the first small salt operations appeared in the 19th Century and here remain the most interesting of old salt works ruins, some so faint they are at the threshold of perception. The land is now going through yet another transformation as part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project and will see considerable change over the next few years. It should be fun to watch.

Oliver Salt Works ruins

I had found the textures on the righthand side of this Oliver Salt Works ruins photo worth a revisit.

During an earlier photo session I was much taken with the visual texture of a distribution ditch under construction. The ditch was being lined with a layer of impermeable clay with the skillful marks made by the large front end loaders creating a lovely pattern. The wind was coming from a direction that meant I would have to cross a dry borrow ditch to photograph these particular textures. The bottoms of disused salt ponds in the South Bay are often underwater during our winter rainy seasons and dry out during the summer. In their dry phase a thin crust forms over a thick, black, organic marsh clay that accumulated over the millennia when this was a tidal marsh. I often look for evidence that the crust has supported someone else’s weight before trusting it with mine.

Borrow ditch footprints , Salt Pond E12 construction-103

Encouraging footprints – someone made it across the borrow ditch. I didn’t.

Happily, the borrow ditch had a set of footprints suggesting that its crust would support a human. With kite flying and camera aloft I set out gingerly across the ditch and while the ground was decidedly soft below the crust all was well right up to the moment my right foot sank to about mid calf in the clay below the crust. This was an interesting development – my first “break through” in years of South Bay work. I pressed down with my free left foot to pull out the embedded leg and my left foot sank into the mud as well. The physics of this made clear sense as the gooey, black clay – now quite aromatic – clings to its prey with surprising tenacity. I was able to extricate my left foot at the expense of sinking my right foot further yet and about this time took the photograph above. Given taht the bearing capacity of the crust was limited there was little to do but lie down to reduce my surface loading and then spend 10 minutes or so wiggling my right leg out of the muck (all while flying the kite. This was altogether an interesting experience.

Once free I continued my photo sessions with about 15 pounds of muck stuck to my lower extremities. After finishing the photographs my stinky shoes, socks and trousers were placed in a garbage bag leaving me to drive home in my briefs.

Distribution ditch bottom , Distribution ditch bottom

During the session I found other photo worthy textures in the bottom of the new distribution ditches.

Here is a set of images from the session that I have posted to Flickr:

The set from that day captures the construction project well underway as heavy machinery creates distribution ditches and flow control structures. Many photographs in this set are prosaic images documenting construction. But the session also found some interesting surface textures, particularly in the machine worked layers of clay that line the new ditches. The set also contains a few photographs of Mount Eden Creek Marsh, an area restored to tidal flow in 2008.



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