The wind sweeps the surface of the water and whips my hair into my mouth, but it’s not strong enough to move the deeper undercurrent in the harbor. I move in that space. Turbulence from my paddle slaps the underside of my kayak. I consider it a shark, or a gator, before I remember the feel of a careless stroke and relax. I can relax. It’s at least 70 feet to the bottom but I can swim. I am capable. I paddle into the flux of the tidal flow; not quite in, not quite out, not quite stagnant. Everywhere, life is possible, brisk, and contagious.
In a watershed everything flows to the lowest point, and this is it. This is a culvert to the harbor, the slide of trash into our oceans. The whole south side of the historic city limits flows through here. It is easy to tell that access to fresh food is low, that Styrofoam is the currency of convenience, and that trash cans are a waste of space. The litter is so dense it heaps up on itself and decomposes in place, making a new sediment of chemical particulates and plastic liners that settle through the water column, becoming the basis of the food chain. Pneumatophores bob up and down seeking root. Brazilian pepper trees mixed in the mangroves burst with red berries. Two green herons are resting in a tangle of branches. Three white herons roost in the protection of the creek’s canopy. I wonder if I opened their stomachs how much plastic they would contain.
This part of St. Petersburg is no different than any other city. All cities have back doors and alley ways. One thing is made shiny while another is destroyed. It is easy to see how there is a shelter in this margin, to accept this new identity for Salt Creek, to normalize this particular marginalization of space. But this is no justification. There is no right path for excusing what has been done here.
I follow the water as a vein of life through the land. If you take a map of any physical space and strip away everything but water, the imprint left behind resembles veins in the human body. This visible network is like an endless refraction of a necessary life force not because it is like that but because it is that. Nature reuses ideas that work, and these marginalized channels – whether vein or creek or river or back alleyway – carry life in all its forms to its farthest reaches.
Up the creek the water is still. There is no perceptible current. My paddle disappears beneath the creeks surface with each stroke, pushing back the unknown. I will push my way up this creek, out of sight and imprisoned by the mangroves that shelter it. I will pause in this margin and breathe through it. It exists with or without me, and I revel in its being, no matter how filthy it may be. Even here, there is pasture enough for my imagination.