Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mudlarking – Sally Mack’s Secret Passion

Guest Post:
Sally Mack is a Bay Area environmental photographer

I discovered the Guadalcanal Village wetlands restoration site shortly after moving to Vallejo, California. Bicycling along a curious road with U.S. Fish and Game "Bird Refuge" and bullet-ridden National Wildlife Refuge signs off to the side, I had no idea what the place was. It made me curious, indeed!

That was before the fences went up, limiting access to the area. As a CalTrans mitigation site, it was being restored to a salt-water wetlands subject to tidal influence. It had been the site of a housing development built in the 1940s for workers at the nearby Mare Island Naval Shipyard, later used for recreational paintball.

I began bicycling out there with my camera. Having grown up in the desert in Arizona, the sight of all that water, and water levels that changed as much as five vertical feet, fascinated me.

When the fences went up, I contacted the CalTrans project manager to request a key to the gate which he gave me after asking, "You're only taking pictures?"

I've returned hundreds of times over 10 years, taken thousands of photographs in all kinds of weather. No matter how many times I've seen it, it's always different: the light, the tides, the season, the wind, the plants, the birds, the mud. And it's always beautiful.

Algae. This image was taken at the 53-acre wetlands restoration site that will soon become part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The site is bordered by Highway 37 and the Napa River.

Sally said wetlands seem exotic -- the plants that live in them, the birds, the amphibians that cannot live anywhere else. Water ebbs and flows, absorbs and reflects light, plants swaying with the subtle energy.  Beauty is everywhere.

Pink Pickleweed: Vast stretches of lush pickleweed marsh, and a sense of solitude in the midst of seven million people best describe San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Just a stone's throw away from San Francisco and California's famed Napa Valley, San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge offers a rare peek into how the San Francisco Bay Area once was with its expansive marshes and bay waters.

The refuge provides critical migratory and wintering habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl, particularly diving ducks, and provides year-round habitat for endangered, threatened, and sensitive species like the California clapper rail, salt marsh harvest mouse, California black rail, San Pablo song sparrow, and Suisun shrew.

The photos in the exhibit were taken with a classic Hasselblad camera and printed optically (as opposed to digitally) at a local lab. More of Sally's photos can be seen at

The San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex is a collection of seven National Wildlife Refuges administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Information on visiting is available online at