It would be unfair to call Alviso the armpit of the South Bay because in the real world, people wear deodorant that makes the smell go away, whereas in Alviso, the smell never goes away. On one side there are thousands of acres of shallow water full of decaying plants, animal parts and watercraft. On the other is a massive landfill, final resting place of Silicon Valley’s rotting waste.

Yet most of us hiker types — who can work up a pretty good stench after seven or eight miles in our stink-enhancing synthetic hiker apparel — fancy ourselves amateur naturalists in the grand spirit of John Muir. We have no business turning up our noses at the reek of Alviso; it’s as natural as the earth itself. Just breathe through your mouth and you’ll be fine.

If you can endure the smell, there are few sights worth seeing in the levees that track out into the lower reaches of the San Francisco Bay north of Alviso. There’s also an intriguing “ghost marina” with the whithered hulks of once-grand seagoing vessels. Apparently somebody thought it’d be a good place for a marina, but no matter how much dredging they did, the mud kept reclaiming the area. The area also attracts thousands of birds during high migration season, though most have come and gone by now.

I ventured out that way on Sunday for a few hours — fortunately there was strong, bracing breeze coming in off the bay to keep the stink level down. Didn’t see all that many birds — just the standard gulls, coots and Canada geese whose traveling instincts get tripped up by our pleasant winters.

Let’s see a few pictures:

Decaying sailboat

Somebody’s decaying sailboat. This is what most people actually want to do with their sailboats after a few years of pouring all their money into them.

Weeds, Mission Peak far to the east

I was on the prowl for wildflowers — saw these weeds and thought they did a fine job of framing Mission Peak to the east.

Decaying skiff

A skiff decays near the waterway running out to the bay. Note there’s a fair amount of litter out this way; somehow this area must get left off the coastal-cleanup lists.

Water valve

This is one of those valves that lets water flow from one side of a levee to another. I doubt that it works anymore; nature is reclaiming most of the old salt marshes here.

Canada geese

Look, Ma, a two-headed Canada goose!

Off one goes

This one got very agitated as I moved in closer to take a picture. Eventually, honking in disgust at being obliged to actually fly because that’s what wild geese do when people come too close, it took off and settled back down in the water about 10 yards out. I keep hoping my harassment will trigger their migratory instinct and send them on their way. I know they’re supposed to be somewhere at this time of year, but I doubt that it’s here.

Little yellow flowers

I got a little nature lesson from these flowers: on the way out, none of them were in bloom — I saw tons of enclosed heads of what looked to be potentially interesting flowers. On the way back, perhaps 90 minutes later, they had all opened to the sun. I still don’t understand how flowers do this with no muscles, tendons or central nervous system.

More flowers in a sheltered area

These were out of the wind, so I tried some experimental close-ups, which demonstrated to me that I still don’t really know to make my camera do macro shots in close quarters.

Decaying cabin cruiser

A decaying cabin cruiser reminds me of the S.S. Minnow.

I go up this way to see the birds on days when I don’t feel up for the long drive required for most hikes. It’s easy walking — all flat on the levees — and it does offer some wildlife viewing potential. It is, after all, part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Sanctuary. Even accounting for the smell, it’s not bad walking. Not great, but it provides a point of comparison — if you spend all your time wandering among majestic redwoods and spectacular mountain peaks, you might start to lose your appreciation of them.