Does this count as nature?

Head east from Stanford campus, and you’ll find an almost-beautiful place, one that’s flat and scarred and naturally productive, if not quite natural. To the west, of course, lies the iconic Californian magic of redwoods, rolling golden grasslands, stern Pacific views. But one evening this fall, after meandering through well-tended suburbia, across 101 and its web of on-ramps, I reached the edge of San Francisco Bay at sunset. A different sort of magic.

I’ve returned many times, circling trails while smelling the curious mix of salt, mud, blooming plants, sewage treatment plants, bird shit. I’m preoccupied plotting a post-graduation return to “wild” Patagonia, to those immense and perfect landscapes where I worked for five years before grad school. But this very imperfect place brings me back to hunting out corners of space as a Manhattan kid. A metal swingset in a paved park, where the top of the swing brought the river into view, deserved hours of attention each afternoon. What counts as nature?

Signs tell that Baylands Nature Preserve, at almost 2,000 acres, is “one of the largest tract of undisturbed marshlands in the San Francisco Bay.” Marshland, yes. Undisturbed?
An exceptionally high diversity of plant species exist in this ecoregion, but scientists estimate that the Bay is the most “invaded aquatic region on Earth,” due to the prevalence of non-native species.
Unlike the wild (and well-protected) Pacific coastline 25 miles to the west, the Bay has seen decades of industrial use.
Aging infrastructure dots the area, but remains off-limits to the public
In the distance, ridges of the surprisingly tall Coast Range hang above the industrial Fremont area.
A public access dock crosses the mud flats to let paddlers launch their crafts.
Draining water from ~40% of California, the Bay is constant motion, between tides, winds, and inflow.
Hundreds of species of migrating and resident birds use this area, a reminder that many species make their home in this humanized place.