Rock on Garbage

Bayfront Park, at Marsh Road in Menlo Park, is a high and unusually shaped set of hills, overgrown clay mounds that look like they have been moulded by the dirt roads laid out in graceful curves from the narrow entrance to the highest promontory overlooking San Francisco Bay. There is no overt sign that gives the game away, but the shape is unmistakable to the practiced eye: this is primitive garbage dump morphology, predating the wisdom of modern sanitary engineering. Only landfill has this much machinery. Only landfill sticks this far out into the bay.

Stone Poetry, Bayfront Park, Menlo ParkClosed some time in the 1980s, the mounds reach up to 200 vertical feet of garbage at the highest elevations, much of it in a liquid state because the dump is improperly sealed. Leachate runoff into the bay must be frightful.

The park is overgrown with grass and weeds, a few stunted palms, modest groves of fir and live oak, and strewn with boulders that seems strangely out of place. A helpful leaflet explains the mystery: the boulders are not really boulders but stone poetry, American Indian pictographs that aren’t American Indian, just as the park isn’t really a park. One of my professors in grad school liked to say that language is nothing but “a lie superimposed upon an error,” and it seems the stone poetry in Bayfront Park offers a perfect illustration.

Undoubtedly, the effort is well meant, even if it has the ring of refrigerator poetry, constrained by the availability of a limited vocabulary:

Evening pool

weather clear with stars

I walk with the wind behind me

inspired, with a glad heart


discover many animals,

grass, sun, canyons, and earth.

No hunger, war, no fear,

making peace and strong brothers.

The bit about canyons is an overstatement, by the way, but there is a decommissioned sewage treatment plant and a methane recovery facility way in the back, surrounded by some jewel-toned ponds of sludge, each set in a bezel of brightly glinting scum.

Bayfront Park, Menlo ParkFor all the degradation, Bayfront Park is a lovely place, especially at sunrise. Even at the softest footfall, the jackrabbits run for cover, legs too long and ears too tall. Shorebirds shriek into the softly-breathing stillness. The salt ponds gleam an improbable white, making a canvas for the runnels and phantom creeks drawing abstract figures through the crystal fields. If you’re lucky, day breaks with a radiance multiplied by the waters of the bay, a reminder and a promise


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June 2008
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