“How to read a creek” is something that if I asked most people I know would do a full stop, stare me down for a second or two, and then say, “How the hell am I supposed to know, Darby?” My personal theory is that none of them have seen, recognized, and then acknowledged any creek. “Reading” a creek isn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, since it has layers. First, you need to see the creek itself, observe it. Anyone observing it has to see the creek itself and recognize it as nature, which when most people look at Salt Creek, they don’t see that. They see an overgrown little flow of water that cuts through south St. Pete and the only use is as a dumping ground. And, yeah, a lot of people take the creek up on that “offer” for being a trash heap, with the closer you get to Bartlett Pond, the more garbage.
But continue reading the creek, look past the garbage, and now into the biological side of the waterway. Recognized it. There’s a plethora of animals, plants, and microorganisms that call the creek home. For my own personal biological pleasure, I know there has to be a ton of algae in this creek, which build a basis for everything else. In the food chain, a lot of different algae are known as “high quality food.” Tampa Bay itself is an estuary, which is a great breeding ground for everything living and water dependent. The creek goes from the harbor through a few different named waterways until it becomes a ditch, and even in that ditch, there’s still all these organisms who live in the water, even if it’s murky.
Looking past the organisms who live in Salt Creek, there’s the history of the waterway to continue, the last layer of my “creek reading essentials.” Acknowledge the history, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Salt Creek was a historically marginalized waterway, getting dredged to make way for Bayboro Harbor and then having industry set up on its banks. Compared to Bayboro Harbor, Salt Creek really got the short end of the stick, just like a lot of the people who live nearby it. It runs through south St. Petersburg, a historically black community. The creek and its history are not glamorous, nor are they known by many of the people living nearby or even on the shores. I lived in St. Petersburg for two years without knowing much about the area, and I’d been visiting the area for nearly a decade before a class introduced me to Salt Creek and its history.
Reading a creek takes effort, even if it can be dumbed down to three major steps. So with these steps, look around at your creeks and see how you can read them.