Nature & Community on a St. Petersburg Stream

Category: Salt Creek (page 2 of 2)

Philosophy, Nature (Sean Francis)

I have suggested in the past (in other papers for this very class, in fact) that I am ultimately unsure as to whether or not Salt Creek really constitutes “nature.” I have also suggested that the nature of nature (pardon the pun) seems to have changed a good deal over the years – what today is considered nature almost certainly would not have been prior to the environmental movement of the 20th century, for instance. Nowhere is this made clearer, in my opinion, than in Robert Sullivan’s article in New York Magazine, “The Concrete Jungle.”


Salt Creek at Interstate 275

In this article, Sullivan makes the claim that New York – considered by many (or, at least, by me) to be one of the least-natural spots on the face of the Earth, is in fact morediverse than “the suburbs and rural counties that surround it” (Sullivan). Granted, I do not have the ecological expertise to make a solid claim about Salt Creek as it relates to Sullivan’s research, but if I had to guess, I would say that the same thing is probably true about the creek versus the area which surrounds it – that is, it seems to me that Salt Creek is more of an ecological hot-zone than the area of Saint Petersburg which borders its waters. After all, in spite of how Salt Creek must appear to the vast majority of those who know of its existence, there did not seem to be a shortage of biological life during our trips there as a class.

In fact, my memories feature a creek replete with life – avian life, at the very least. Pelicans, gulls, egrets, and other birds seem to inhabit the creek in abundance – and I take it that where there are birds, there must also be fish. Though I personally did not see any fish in Salt Creek, there are at least two reasons for me to believe that they thrive in the creek in spite of the tremendous amounts of garbage and refuse – first of all, unless I am very much mistaken, all the birds that I listed above are fish-eaters. But even more telling than that (and probably a more reliable method of figuring out if there are fish, since I am not an ornithologist) is the fact that there are, apparently, people whofish out of Salt Creek. I cannot imagine why – I would be testing the fish for radiation or lead poisoning before I even thought about eating it, personally – but this does at least strongly suggest that Salt Creek is populated with animals both under- and over-water.

And it is not just animals that populate Salt Creek – the waterway has thriving population of what I believe are mangroves. One might suspect that the rampant dumping of trash into the creek would stifle plant growth, but it appears that in the case of the creek, life has found a way – during our first canoe trip out to Salt Creek we saw several instances in which mangrove roots had grown through various kinds of garbage, from discarded gallon milk jugs to empty bottles of Faygo. Part of me is tempted to make the point that nature cannot be merely determined by the amount of plant and animal life in a given locale – but the more I think about it, the more I wonder what else nature could possiblybe when you strip it down to its most basic possible form. When looked at in this sense, it seems clear that Salt Creek is not merely nature – it is more natural than just about everything surrounding it.

Theme (Rick Davidson)


Cleaning Up (Christopher Campbell)

The trio of would-be musicians sat in the apartment, wrenching their brains on how to write the Salt Creek song. Two-thirds of the group had visited the creek, while the other third was mildly amused by the descriptions of the subject matter. The chord progression was worked out within the span of an hour . . . the lyrics took much longer to compose. Dark, humorous banter about the probability of a high corpse content within the rank waters of Salt Creek was replaced by arguments about how the hell to write anything remotely flattering about the river. At least the iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme had been ironed out.

The primary problem that plagues Salt Creek is, simply put, that is an eyesore. As such, people neither wish to acknowledge its presence, nor care to grant it any redeeming qualities. Aesthetics, unfortunately, is responsible for the level of importance that society offers a given thing. For example, the Humane Society runs a commercial spot on basic cable. The commercial  consists of a series of video snippets set to some sad music (usually Sarah Mclachlan or Tom Waits). In these snippets, a variety of animals look forlornly at the camera from the confines of their cages, ostensibly begging for the viewers to adopt them. What is interesting about the commercials is the ratio of cute to ugly animals, which is about 1 to 5. In other words, for every 5 fluffy puppies or kittens, there is a shot of a cat missing an ear, or a three-legged, mangy, wall-eyed dog. The insertion of these disfigured animals is to remind viewers of the cruelties of animal abuse. Salt Creek is that battered, wall-eyed puppy that serves a didactic purpose, but is rarely adopted.

While the aforementioned analogy may seem wildly inept to some, one cannot deny that the creek is extremely marginalized. The appearance of Salt Creek is proof enough that the only attention that has been paid to this stretch of water is the same attention that one might pay to a drainage ditch. An overabundance of litter of all descriptions is strewn about the banks. The mangroves are fairly filled with the leavings of people who have used the watershed as their personal dumping grounds.

The garbage itself is a sign of how non-important Salt Creek is. To hearken back to the song lyrics, one of the verses reads: “Men still cast lines from the bridge above, though sometimes their haul is a boot or a glove.” Apart from the inside joke that arose during the class’s initial visit to the creek for cleanup purposes, there is a bit of romanticism to those lines. An old boot or a glove would probably be among the higher quality pieces of refuse fished from Salt Creek. An old television set, a discarded outboard engine, or even one of the aforementioned corpses would have been nearly preferable to find during the cleanup as opposed to the plastic bags, drink cups, beer bottles, and used condoms that were present. Salt Creek apparently doesn’t even rate high enough on the litter scale to harbor decent trash.

The pastoral view of nature produces a cataract in the eye of the beholder: the dismissal of the utilitarian. To live near farmlands and reap the scenic benefits provides a completely different perspective from those who have to live off of those lands. Thus, it becomes rather laughable to adhere to an ideal that one has no practical relationship to. When one drives through a rural area and sees cattle grazing in rolling, emerald fields, that person appreciates the passing beauty of the scene. Conversely, when one is inthat field of cattle, boots stained with shit, bloody and sweating from repairing a barbed wire fence, the admiration becomes rather strained. Thus, the appreciation of the laborer, when it does arise, becomes a genuine love for the land.

Paradoxically, the decidedly un-Romantic view that visitors have for Salt Creek is probably not shared by those who experience the watershed on a utilitarian basis. The fishermen from the song most likely harbor an affection for the creek as they spend afternoons casting lines and watching would-be ecologists clumsily navigate up the waters. Perhaps those two laughing souls who warned the class of alligators should spearhead the movement to save Salt Creek. Their message would probably ring truer.

So, how to move beyond obvious, clichéd “Let’s find something and think Green about it” movement, so pervasive in today’s media. The amount of time I’ve spent racking my poor, spent brain on how to defuse my apparent distaste for the creek is offset by the actual mission of the project. Without further discourse, the mission, as I perceive it, is this: “we can endeavor to change the face of Salt Creek forever.” Yes, I realize that it’s a cheese-filled allusion to that song that the trio from the beginning of the paper produced, but the answer is hidden in a single word: face. The mission of the project is to change community perception. The dam that chokes the waters will, most likely, never be demolished. The garbage will continue to pile up. The stench will continue to offend the nostrils. These negative elements, however, will slowly reverse themselves if the citizens ofSaint Petersburg actually get to know the creek like those fishermen. A change in perception will necessarily lead to a change in reality. Once can only hope that someone will eventually genuinely love the wall-eyed puppy ofSaint Petersburg.

Undisturbed (Patricia Seffrin)

Canoe tripUndisturbed by the murmur of voices and the activity of half a dozen canoes paddling purposefully to clean up Salt Creek, a Brown-Crowned Night-Heron observed from branches of Brazilian Pepper and White Mangrove. When not expected, nature often delights. Prepared for the inner city, being suddenly surrounded by nature’s beauty and unexpected sunshine was a surprise. Not one of the popular city parks or nature trails, but an overlooked, neglected waterway in downtown St. Petersburg offered this glimpse of unsuspected nature. This can’t be a pastoral scene according to Greg Garrard. Where is the retreat to the country? Where the contrast between pristine nature and evil urban sprawl? Where is the hidden reality of nature’s relentless toughness? We are able to discover a peaceful, quiet scene of simple beauty within the city with harsh realities of floating garbage in the creek and trash entwined in the Mangroves.

Jenny Price, in “Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A,” challenges writers to look beyond presenting nature as “the wonders of wildness” (2). A school of dolphin at a Florida beach, the aroma of a grove of blossoming orange trees in Seminole, deer nibbling at foliage in one of the state’s preserves are natural states of beauty, recognized and written about routinely. Price challenges us to look beyond the obvious and “tell us far more about our everyday lives in the places we actually live” (2).

Can we change our perception of what nature is? Not simply somewhere we visit on the weekend to getaway or escape after work to relax, but as a part of our everyday lives where we work, play, and learn.

As a child growing up in the country, my siblings and I played in fields, creeks, and on old railroad tracks, making peanut butter sandwiches and hiking to our destinations. A generation later I drove my kids ten blocks to Crescent Lake to have a picnic and enjoy the playground equipment. They spent the whole time playing tag, and hide-n-seek in the huge, old Cypress tree roots. Their imagination helped them see the real fun and natural beauty of the trees. Most of my friends took their kids to Sea World, the more adventurous camping at Ft. Desoto. Having been raised in my own backyard, or maybe because I was lazy, my children experienced nature as something they lived and played in, not a weekend destination. Price challenges us to do the same thing. Take a fresh look at what is conventionally considered nature and expand the scope to include the overlooked, commonplace beauty in the communities we live in, even in the city.

 Now living in a gated community in St. Petersburg, my experience is a drive home in my air-conditioned SUV. I view sunlight filtering through the Live Oaks hanging with moss, glimpse the sunning turtles, scampering rabbits, waddling ducks or daintily stepping cranes. When the air conditioning is off and windows are open, I am crooned to sleep at night by a frog chorus, and wake to a Mockingbird scolding our cat, or a Cardinal’s whistle. Seldom do we take the long way home to walk over a bridge on Salt Creek to see an old pylon functioning as a perch for fishing pelican, or spend a few minutes watching fish jump or ducks dive in our neighborhood retention pond. How much of nature is unappreciated because it is unmarked or unrecognized? Is nature worthy of our attention only if named or designated as a recreational highlight? How can we become more aware of the nature which is part of our daily lives?

Salt Creek is an example of a waterway unrecognized as recreational. There is a functional boatyard, successful industry, a restaurant and bar, and leased studio space for artists in a restored warehouse, and residences. The creek is traversed by main thoroughfares, bridges, and drainage pipes. It joins several larger bodies of water in Bartlett Park and Lake Maggorie. Flowing through neighborhoods not routinely recognized as “recreational”, the south side of St. Petersburg is associated with low income housing, high crime rate, and a transient business community. Is it the location, the history of being a working river, or the residential and business community that surround it responsible for Salt Creek’s beauty being overlooked, neglected, and not sought out  as a community treasure? Price reflects about this nature writers’ missing the boat in regard to socio-economic differences in L.A. Nature writers need to connect with the communities directly affected by the particular natural source, resources available, and community involvement. Salt Creek needs to be recognized as relevant, and useful to people who work and live in south St. Petersburg.

The city has opened bicycle friendly roadways, neighborhood parks, and landscaped intersections to bring nature into the city dwellers daily lives. Efforts are made to clean up neglected waterways, vacant lots, and restore abandoned buildings.St. Petersburgprobably doesn’t need another artificially constructed park to visit nature. The diverse Salt Creek landscape, neighborhood, and community contain their own value and beauty. Residents, business owners, and visitors need to recognize the topographical and cultural distinctions, but appreciate the diversity so it can once again become an alive, working part of the community. Recognizing nature in our city, being able to appreciate birds in the city streets, flowering Brazilian Pepper, and scrub growth fighting its way through old pavement reclaiming the soil, requires that we look closer and take more time to appreciate the ordinary places in our community.

After an hour long paddle and thirty eight pounds of garbage later, Salt Creek’s potential began to be revealed. It became easier to envision a cleaned up creek with caring community involvement. The mangroves, birds, and water community are obvious signs that the creek is a vital (though slightly blighted) waterway in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg. An overlooked creek had a chance to shine in the sun on a Thursday afternoon that previously had not received much notice. Ideas and a purpose to give a chance to the underdog were born. Salt Creek had an opportunity to rival Weedon Island, Clam Bayou or Ft. Desoto. Not a touristy park, but a waterway with a history and a chance to tell its story. A nature writing class gathered around an idea of rediscovering Salt Creek’s worth, and convincing a community to see its value.

Voyeur or Voyager (Andy Fairbanks)

kayaks-bartlett-pond-mangroves-classick-2011-225x300“. . . I mean that they [students] should notplay life, or study it merely, but earnestly live it from beginning to end.” (Heny David Thoreau,Walden

Wednesday morning of spring break, the campus was mostly quiet as the sun emerged over the buildings to the east. An egret in mating plumage plucked minnows from the dock at USF St. Petersburg’s waterfront across from my reading perch at a table under broad oak boughs and blue sky. My quiet reflection on a recent sailing trip was occasionally interrupted by pleasant greetings with strangers and friends who occasionally passed by on the sidewalk and in the harbor below. Such a serene setting made it easy to shift my attention between the present and the recent past, in which I spent three days and two nights aboard Boogins II, a 34-foot sloop owned by the college that served as one of three floating classrooms for “Thoreau at Sea,” part of Professor Hallock’s Spring 2011 Nature Writing class.

Ospreys cried in the distance as the visiting co-ed sailing team (also on spring break from  Brown University, here to train in warmer climes) began rigging USF’s “Flying Juniors,” a fleet of uniform two-person racing sailboats. Supple bodies stretched and flexed before me as they hoisted multi-colored sails and launched the boats into Bayboro Harbor. Their coach looked amused as pelicans dive-bombed fish spooked by the noise. On the far side of the dock, a hodge-podge of cruisers that have been donated to USF over the years rested as silent witnesses to the scene now drenched in morning sun. Boogins II was among them, while another from our “Thoreau at Sea” trip,Wanderer, was out on another voyage. As the visiting sailors tacked towards the bay in a gentle breeze, I reflected on our adventures.

The Boogins II crew was comprised of aspiring literary scholars, mostly inexperienced at sailing but eager to learn. The six of us ranged from undergrads in their twenties, graduate students approaching middle age, and a senior auditor still spry in retirement. One among us literally crawled aboard with tears in her eyes, trembling with anxiety but determined to conquer her fear and embrace this unknown realm. Our captain assigned by the USF Waterfront Department, 26 years old but decades wiser in experience, was skilled and sympathetic. He was marginally interested in our studies and intent on making sure that all would have an exciting voyage. Indeed we did.

Aware that most of the crew was green (inexperienced, not sea-sick), our captain carefully explained what we were doing and how the boat would respond before hoisting and trimming sails or changing tacks. But it was a foregone conclusion that we would sail hard and fast, as the boat was meant to be sailed. Those who wished to do so helped trim the sails and steer the course, which occasionally meant wrestling againstBoogins II’s “weather helm,” or tendency to point into the wind in a strong gust. We were all salty smiles as our captain “buried the rail,” when the power of wind harnessed by our sails wetted one side of the hull and exposed the other, lengthening our waterline and increasing our speed.

On this trip we did not just study Thoreau’s Walden, we lived it. Most impressive, however, was our transformation from a bunch of individuals to a cohesive crew, truly classmates bound by shared adventure to each other, our campus and its vast annex of Tampa Bay made possible by these boats and able captains. In hindsight, what strikes me as unbelievable is that other students might complete a degree at USF St. Petersburg and never once explore the bay or their own souls in a similar way, yet the tools to do so are right there, just beyond the library.

Photo Essay (Robin Shwedo)

bayboro-harbor-with-creek-mouth-shwedo-2011-300x217Most of us have a definite preference when it comes to water: either we feel the need to live in close proximity to a large body of water or the desire to remain completely land-locked.  Even then, there’s usually some wiggle-room: a preference for living miles from the ocean doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy swimming in a lake on a hot summer’s afternoon.

Either way, though, most of us realize and accept the necessity water, of a water-way free of pollutants, garbage and other detritus of modern life, even when that water-way is in the midst of a modern city.

Meandering through the southeast section of St. Petersburg, Florida is Salt Creek.  It is relatively short, as waterways go, and situated in a socioeconomically challenged part of St. Petersburg; both of these factors figure into why it is so frequently overlooked.  Once one learns of it and sees it up close, however, it is easy to see its beauty and feel peacefully invigorated by it.  One merely has to overlook the tires stuck in the muck, the six-pack holders tied up in the bushes, the beer cans shining from the bottom of the creek, and the colors swirling atop the water around the discarded can of motor oil. 

“Kayak or canoe?” 

The question for navigating Salt Creek was straight-forward enough.  Like most of our group, my Salt Creek partner and I opted for one of the canoes.  After easing into the small craft while trying not to overturn the boat, Doug and I paddled across Bayboro Harbor toward the entrance of the creek, passing small row boats and sail boats on up to a multi-storied city-on-the-water mansion of a boat.

The trip down Salt Creek gives an intimate picture of the waterway.  No doubt a once pristine creek, there are areas still bordering on wilderness.  But lest we forget that we’re traveling a creek in the midst of a bustling city, the wilderness is intermittent; most of the shoreline now holds marinas, restaurants, a multi-artist studio, warehouses, as well as a ridiculous amount of garbage.  There were beer cans and bottles, six-pack-rings, bags that once contained potato chips, cookies, candy, and the daily haul of groceries, as well as tires and other automotive parts; these were the more polite pieces of refuse seen in the water and hanging from lower tree branches and undergrowth.

On the Third Street Bridge—Thrill Hill, to those in the neighborhood—a man stood watching us with mild curiosity as we paddled toward him.  “Watch out for the sharks!” he admonished, a hint of smile in his voice.

But there were no sharks to watch out for that day, or most likely any other day. Rather, there was garbage to retrieve from the bottom of the creek or floating in the currents of the shallow waters or from the branches of nearby shrubs.  Occasionally, someone in our group would call out about a find either fished from the water or just out of reach: “Wow, look what we got!  Guess the fish are eating Corn Flakes now!” 

“What else would you want to go with that beer?  Hey, that Styrofoam cup…can you reach it?”

“Hold on…got it!  Any chance we can pull that tire out of the muck?” 

And on it went.  Most of us alternated between admiring the natural beauty and

bits of wilderness around us and wondering how anyone could be desecrate the water-way. 

When we finally had to turn back—the high tide and low second bridge at Fourth Street South made going further difficult—I looked on the waterway with new eyes.  Here were the tires that could not be pulled out of the water; there was where the air stank with a rancid chemical stench.  But the wildlife surrounding us, both flora and fauna, seemed to be watching us as if requesting our help. 

 A month passes.  I wonder how close one can get to Salt Creek by car.  Grabbing my camera, I convince a friend to go for a drive.  We head south.

Anhinga, Lake Maggiore

Anhinga, Lake Maggiore (Patricia Seffrin)

At the edge of Lake Maggiore, we find where the lake empties into Salt Creek just west of Ninth Street South at Twenty-Seventh Avenue South.  An anhinga watches us, spreads his wings to dry, then heads to the edge of the lake. I follow, take a few more pictures, then watch as the anhinga shows his dance steps across the water before taking flight.

On the way back to Ninth Street, we stop.  “Look,” points my friend.  I get out, walk to the creek’s shore and find myself face to face with a mid-sized alligator.  It might not be the shark our Third Street Bridge friend warned our group about, but I’m still impressed enough to snap several pictures of the six-footer.  He stays in the water, lazily watching me before swimming off.


Alligator, MLK Bridge (Robin Shwedo)

We follow the creek to the best of our ability.  In some spots, the streets run paral-lel to Salt Creek; in other places, it crosses the creek.  We are able to get a good feel for part of the waterway that our group couldn’t get to on the first canoe trip.  Egrets, anhingas, fish and gators were among the wild life observed along the way; unfortunately, we also spied the usual garbage suspects.

The final shots are taken from the Third Street Bridge of the back of Salt Creek Artworks on one side of the bridge. Crossing the street to the view the creek closer to Bayboro Harbor, I get a shot of a warehouse with Embree Marine Service painted on the side; across the creek from the metal building is an old wooden dock.  All of these—the dock, the marine service warehouse, the artworks—are as much part of Salt Creek as the egrets, anhingas, fish and alligators.  Unfortunately, the garbage, the flotsam of modern cities, was also part of the creek.  It shouldn’t be.

On the way back to Bayboro Harbor during that first canoe trip on Salt Creek, we approached the artworks’ building, backed up precariously above the shore.  A light pole extends over the creek from the corrugated metal building.  As we paddled closer, two large pelicans landed on the light pole, large sentinels with a request squawked in bird-speak; if we could understand them, we might have heard them plead, “Clean the creek, for us, for you, for the future.”

I hope we remember to do that…and moreSalt-Creek-Artworks-back-from-3rd-st-br-shwedo-20111-150x150

Silent City Pond (Cyrus Newcombe)

bartlett-pondThe silence back in the mangroves allows my mind and imagination to wonder. Back here on this pond, surrounded by foliage its easy to imagine being somewhere else, some-when else. The canoe gently coats along the placid water. Here is a retreat that is sheltered from the world, hidden away from all the busy rush of everyday life. A peer over the side of canoe. The water is shallow and a ghostly underwater world lays just inches beneath the surface. Twisting branches rise up in the water and light filters down around them, forming otherworldly shadows. Everything is a single uniform gray-black color, almost the color of ash. Here and there a single bright red leaf breaks up the monochromatic underwater world.

The boat rocks as my boating partner plunges the dip net beneath the surface of the water. I resume rowing, the process now made much harder by the lowered net. A minute later he hoists the net back up. It looks like a poop-filled diaper; a bulging white container filled with black goop. The air is filled with the noxious smell of decay. The peaceful world below is a fetid mix of dead leaves, dead animals, and sloppy mud. My boating partner begins to shift through the muck, and it slips through his fingers. The smell grows worse as he rummages through his catch. Out of the filth he draws a single Faygo soda can, its base crusted with a few barnacles. Just as Bartlettpond has become a dump for decaying natural matter, so to has it become a place people dump their unwanted soda cans, liquor bottles, and other assorted trash. This single small pond, secluded as it is, could easily be some place in the Everglades, if it weren’t for the accumulated trash and the steady buzz of traffic from 22nd Street that is just audible through the dense mangroves.

Lookin’ (Hugh Tulloch)

How shall we look at Salt Creek?

First of all, who cares?  Isn’t this just another little stream which turns into a commercial/industrial creek, leading to a nondescript harbor?  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it; it’s just not particularly special.  There are hundreds of creeks just like it all over Florida.  Only the most rabid ecologist could make a case that it is specially deserving of protection.

Or is that really true?  I paddled up the creek not long ago with low expectations, only to discover that it holds a few special treats for a careful observer.  First of all, the creek is home to many of the birds, large and small, which make Florida really special.  No one can ever forget the sight of a great blue heron landing in a longleaf pine, as we saw on this trip.

That graceful feathered dinosaur came flapping in at considerable speed, pulled up at the last minute to a perfect stall, grabbed a branch in his talons, and let out a querulous squawk to announce his arrival.  Never mind that the pine tree was between a marina and a warehouse; the memory is brilliant.

Or, how about the fat pelican perched on the roof of a warehouse?  That big, goofy clown of the airways looked down at us splashing our way up the creek – he must have had a laugh as we snatched plastic bottles and other trash out of the mangroves.  Why bother with that on Salt Creek?

Nature can be less than Garrard’s Wilderness or even Pastoral.  Of course, it’s wonderful to walk in the forest primeval with the leaves crunching underfoot, the smell of pine needles in your nose, and the sound of a mockingbird in your ears, looking over the ridge for the sight of a panther.  But that’s not next door for all of us.  We can’t all jump in our kayaks and paddle out on the flats of the Crystal River as it flows into the Gulf, with the baby nurse sharks lying sluggishly on the bottom and the rays flapping lazily along the riverbed.

But if Laura can walk to work over Thrill Hill and look down into Salt Creek to see a pelican working over the baitfish, that’s not a bad nature fix.  An osprey diving for his lunch is still a thrill whether you see it in the Everglades or from the dock at your local marina.

That’s what makes Salt Creek worth saving.  We shouldn’t aspire to take it back to the Tocobago times. Let’s just keep it clean, so it can support the plants, the fish and the birds which make it so much fun for us all.  Even Thoreau in his Walden cabin wasn’t waiting for Squanto to show up with a handful of corn and the drumstick of a turkey he had just shot with his bow and arrow.  He planted his beans and made other improvements to accommodate Nature to his needs and desires.  Let’s take a leaf from his book and just improve the little corner where we are.  That’s how I look at Salt Creek.

Too many ecologists and nature writers get so wrapped up in their romantic vision of Nature (with a capital N) that they lose sight of what’s practical, and lose their followers at the same time.  The perfect is the enemy of pretty-damned-good.

Instead, they should learn to spell nature with a lower case n, accept the fact that it’s never going to be as pristine as they might like, and make the best of it.  Introduce the changes (hopefully improvements) which a majority of people can live with, avoid the really stupid stuff like straightening the Kissimee River or draining the

Everglades, do your best to keep the corporate developers at bay, and build a consensus. By now, most of the general public is tired of hearing about the snail darter and the spotted owl; they want to find a compromise which will avoid mass extinctions and still let the loggers earn a living.

Consensus is not going to be possible on all the issues, so they’ll have to select a few issues very carefully and cleverly, nail their colors to the mast and fight the good fightbut do that in a spirit of comity and not burn every bridge in the county.  Jenny Price seems to have a good message for us in her “Urban Denizen”.  I would summarize her theme as “Nature is where you are – make the best of it.”

Her five questions can help us to look at nature with a purpose.  Her first question – “What and where are the wild things?” is probably too global, but let’s zero in on a local application and say, “Salt Creek is marinas and warehouses, bridges and dams, garbage and pollution, but it is equally birds and fish, mangroves and palmettos, blue sky and flowing water.”

It’s too facile to focus too much on either side of this equation.  Both sides have their value or at least raison d’être.  The marinas and warehouses add value to the creek at the same time they lead to the pollution and garbage.  You can’t live in a house without tracking in mud occasionally and eventually wearing out the carpet.

That leads us to her question two, “How do people use nature as resources?”  Salt Creek’s marinas and warehouses are money-makers, and that means that they help pay the taxes which support our ecological efforts.  We can welcome commercial and industrial activity along the creek, while protecting it with appropriate regulations to limit dangerous effluents and other damage.  That doesn’t mean that the oil tank farms of the ‘20’s and 30’s were blameless – I’d bet that they leaked all sorts of nasty stuff into the creek now and then.  However, we’ve learned a few lessons since then, and can learn to stop that, too.

That allows us to get in our kayaks and paddle up the stream to see what we can find.  And what do we find?  Healthy mangrove thickets are providing a habitat for all sorts of fish and other marine life, even among the plastic cups and bottles.  There doesn’t appear to be much liquid pollution, although an occasional glimpse of petroleum’s rainbow sheen on the water tells us that we’re not in a pristine environment.  The herons, egrets and even ospreys soar overhead, along with the ubiquitous seagulls, confirming that there is food on the menu here in the creek.  And it’s all there for us to see if we’ll just get out and look.  This confirms to me that we’ve probably reached a sustainable balance; one which could be improved, certainly, but nonetheless sustainable.

Price’s third question asks how we transform the landscape we live in and how does nature act back?  In addition to all the examples above, perhaps the single most striking example for Salt Creek is the dam which turned Lake Maggiore into a freshwater lake in the 1930s. The first thing which happened was massive fish kills on both sides of the dam.  The salt water fish in the lake turned belly up, and the freshwater fish trapped downstream gasped and died.  Sea grass in the lake died and smothered marine life all around.  Later, when public works opened the dam to release excess fresh water in the lake, they killed mullet in the creek “… by the ton”.

“How do different people encounter nature differently?” asks Price in question 4.  There are so many examples.  Kayakers have a typical nature experience, but people having a beer along the rail at Fish Tales can also watch the birds.  The boaters may take a minute to look around as they putt-putt into their berths, and even the warehouse man may glance around while he smokes a cigarette on his break.  Who’s to say that any of these experiences is more valid than the others?  Which of these people is more virtuously attuned with nature?  An objective answer might surprise us.

Finally, Price wants to know how people imagine and understand nature.  This can cover the entire gamut, from enchantment at the flight of the egret to Totch Brown’s appreciation for egrets served as Chokoloskee chicken.  No matter how we may romanticize it, nature is still out there, red in tooth and claw.  Given a chance, the alligator will still eat your poodle, and the osprey will snatch the mullet out of the water for lunch.  And if the osprey has his perch on the top of your condo, your balcony will be covered with blood and fish guts.

If you can’t find nature in the city, you must be willfully blind.  Get out and enjoy it!

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