Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waller Creek: 1st of September 2010

Between 4th and 5th Street, from 2-3pm:

I arrive at the 4th Street Bridge on my bicycle. I lock it up and look out over
the creek that is surrounded by the city on all sides. I walk off the road, step and
climb down the banks into the mostly dry creek bed. The water is murky, oily and
stagnant in some places where the ground is level. There is a very narrow flow in
the stream where the floor slopes downhill. In almost every direction I see that
the water and ground are both littered with cups, cans, pieces of broken glass
bottles, wrappers, bags, articles of clothing, and other various trashed objects.
There are random components of man-made structures that have become
part of the land such as metal rods, concrete chunks, torn fabrics along with metal
fence parts and pipes. I find more random objects including a lone shoe under the
bridge and a fair amount of graffiti on the walls that support the bridge. There is an
opening in the wall where street-water slowly trickles down from a tunnel into the
I make my way upstream, hopping from rock to rock to avoid stepping in the
dirty shallow water. I see people looking down at me from a deck of “Palm Door” (a
business that hosts weddings and other events) about 20 feet above me jutting out
over the creek bank. On the west side of the creek there is a large tree who’s trunk
and old roots protrude out over the water about 10 feet from the bank. Below the
tree some large water dwelling rodent (possibly a muskrat) scurries into the bushes.
In the tree above me I see a small red bird; as I look in its direction I can almost
pretend that I am in a natural rural area instead of the middle of the city because
there are no manmade things in sight. As I turn I see the reflection of a tall building
in the water and reality comes back immediately.
I hike further and find two condom wrappers on the ground; I contemplate
what an uncomfortable place that must have been for the people who used
their contents. Nearby I see a turtle slip into the water from atop rock.
Up ahead I can see the 5th Street Bridge arching over the water, appearing to
have a much more consistent and intentional appearance than the hodgepodge 4th
Street Bridge. The symmetrical arch is constructed of large rocks cut into regular
blocks. It is unlike the previous bridge that had only flat walls made of these rock-
blocks along with slabs of concrete intersecting each other at varying angles and
other inconsistent materials.
Once I am under the arching bridge I can hear the twitter of bats that live in
its crevasses. Near the ground there is a large opening to a tunnel system; smelly
water trickles out of it into the creek bed. I see that on the north side of the 5th
Street bridge the creek is in a very different world; there are no plants or trees
or rocks or muddy banks along the edges of the water as there are south of the
bridge. Instead there are 20-30 foot high concrete walls that lead from the water
up to a walkway on either side. Large buildings line the walkway; some are hotels.
I ponder how I might go further in that direction without walking in the filthy
water. I attempt to traverse the underside of the bridge but it is too difficult. My
professor shows up behind me and takes a photograph of me photographing the
pipes that run underneath the bridge. After he leaves I climb back up to the street
and look down at the creek from the sidewalk of the 5th Street Bridge. I climb around
on the man-made overhangs on the north side of the bridge but soon choose to leave
so that I may explore other sections of Waller creek.

Between 3rd and Red River Street, from 3-4pm:

I arrive at the 3rd Street Bridge. I find a sidewalk on the northwest side of
the bridge that is fenced off to prohibit access. I step over a broken part of the fence
and look down at the creek bed. I see that it extends part way under the sidewalk
because of massive erosion. Underneath the cover of the partially overhanging
sidewalk there is a small pile of clothing and bags, indicating that someone likely
camped there.
On the southwest side of the bridge I discover a body of water that is
not directly a part of the creek. I find a sign that explains that it is a wet pond: a
manmade body of water that collects runoff and filters out pollutants before the
water flows into Waller Creek. Near the sign there is a fence that inhibits access
to the creek from the sidewalk, however upon crossing the 3rd Street Bridge I
find that the east bank has no fence, so I am able to walk down into the creek bed.
There is an open field (Palm Park) that runs along this side, between the
creek and Interstate 35. It has a swing-set, a shallow drained swimming pool,
a couple tables and benches and a structure that appears to be a restroom. I
walk further and see a sidewalk that leads half way down to the creek bed but
abruptly ends, dropping off where it has broken and been washed away by past
flooding. I choose not to walk further along the edge of the park because just
ahead there is a man sleeping on the ground and I do not wish to disturb him.
I walk back the way I had come and encounter a fellow with a shifty vibe and
slightly manic demeanor who asks if I’m taking pictures; I answer that I am taking
pictures; I continue walking; he asks another question but I don’t fully hear it; I
ignore him and cross back over to the west side of the creek.
I follow the sidewalk downstream and notice some fish swimming in the
creek. I arrive at the Red River Street Bridge. There is a stack of seven pennies
on the low wall; I toss one in the creek leaving the stack as six. I look down
and see three young women on a sidewalk that runs along the creek below the
bridge. I call out to them; we have a brief conversation from which I discover
that they are UT architecture grad students who are studying the creek as I am.
At this point I have been out in the heat for hours and am longing for a swim;
I hop back on my bicycle and set out for Barton Springs.

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