How important are names? A creek evokes images of pristine nature, clear water, and birds swooping to take a quick drink. A ditch, on the other hand, brings to mind muddy run-off strewn with Styrofoam cups, soda cans, and torn junk mail. The creek is like a community leader and the ditch is a mob boss, both provide similar results, but the images are polar opposites. To LeFebvre, the terms that distinguish spaces, like creeks or ditches, use a spacial code (LeFebvre 16) and we think that we know what the terms represent.
There are many good reasons to manage urban water. We want to keep our homes dry, avoid flooding, irrigate lands, or utilize dry land. Knowing that Booker Creek is urban and has a history of pollution from the old gas plant’s chemicals, sawdust from the old Pinellas Lumber yard, and road runoff, I was surprised as we walked along Booker Creek to see turtles of all sizes swimming in the sunny water. In cool shadows, minnows, larger fish and what looked like a Snook lazily moved through the crystal water. A bougainvillea leaned over the creek as if planted decades ago by a wayward artist, to form an idyllic view. Algae, dark and rich, has had years to form on concrete and even on the crusty shell of an old turtle. Footbridges and benches beckon us to wander and explore. While high concrete walls wrap around the creek trying to keep it contained and docile.
Under an oak tree, a ragged couple relaxed and fished beside a battered bicycle. I wondered if I should tell them that any fish might be contaminated. Then, I wondered if fish from the creek might be a needed meal, or maybe they were just fishing to pass a peaceful afternoon together. Maybe I didn’t have the right to tell them anything. What did I know anyway? Eventually, Booker Creek feeds out to the harbor, from the harbor to the bay, and from the bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The Snook that might be swimming in a creek today, may later be caught in the gulf and I would have no suspicion of the quality of its meat.
Drainage inlets along the creek are marked with small plaques to warn that the runoff will head to the bay. A small fish is the symbol used. The urban grime that fills the gutters leading to the inlet will pick up oil from vehicles, fertilizer from yards, plastic wrappers, grass clipping, and much more. The little fish plaque is meant to warn us. The rain or sprinklers on yards will push all the grime to the same creeks, to the same harbor, to the same gulf. Water forms an uncomfortable connection and exposes the links we all share.