Saturday, June 25, 2005

A stretch of creek

Most urban creeks aren't much to look at, sadly; and, at least from the road, the one that runs close by our house appeared to be no exception. They tend to look more like storm sewers with trees (if not something worse) rather than healthy, vital environments. But I've always found them intriguing, even potentially mysterious places, especially in a city like Wichita whose major streets are laid out on a grid. They are easy to ignore when one drives on a bridge that crosses them. But while they pose obstacles for human traffic, they provide footholds in and safe passages into the city for animals one wouldn't still expect to see in the city. More profoundly, the creek seeks its own direction and is never satisfied with the depth at which it finds itself. It always insists upon not just finding but creating the path of least resistance, grids be damned. They create alternate spaces, and alternate ways of thinking about and organizing space.
Not too long ago, the city poured a long sidewalk that follows the creek, and so this afternoon I decided to take my dog Scruffy for a walk along it. This creek, I just learned tonight, has a name, which I'll get to later. But no bridges that cross it have signs with its name, and I find myself wondering just how many people aside from Those in Official Capacities know its name. It's as though the city doesn't want us to know, or, more likely, doesn't think anyone would be interested in knowing. But I also must confess that it wasn't till today that I'd really wanted to know its name, even though I had a mild curiosity about the creek, there within just a couple hundred yards of the house, even though I could have sworn that one morning last fall, from my bedroom window, I saw wild turkeys in the field just above the creek. Strange and sad, isn't it, how many things we wonder about and yet only wonder about them for a little while before forgetting, never bothering to get out a map, open up a dictionary.
The particular stretch of creek nearest the house runs parallel with the Kansas Turnpike for about half a mile before they go their separate ways. The city keeps the grass mown there, and every once in a while, there's a bench by the sidewalk. But other than those touches, the city seems not too interested in turning this land into something more attractive to walkers, bikers, or picnic-ers. Along with that new sidewalk, I quickly noticed, the city had also installed some sort of sewer line, and the phone company has laid cables down there as well. The diggin' is easy down there, the creek having already trenched a narrow valley.
The more I looked at the sideewalk, the more the fact that it is the width of a service truck seemed not coincidental.
But the creek! That's what this post is about. The creek itself, which I had thought would be intermittent, in fact seems always to have water in it, though it appears a bit low just now due to there having been no rain in almost two weeks. That last rain was very heavy, though, and down there I saw a fair amount of debris that had washed up into the branches of the small trees growing on the banks. There are no large trees there, by the way, but if these are left alone, in a few decades there'll be nice stands of cottonwood and sycamore. No fish, but we did see a few turtles and a female mallard duck, and swallows have built mud nests under the bridge that crosses the creek. It looks like a young creek, I thought--indeed, for a while I wasn't sure whether it really WAS just a big ditch serving as a storm sewer and had begun to get a little overgrown.
Then, off in the distance we saw what I thought were large, exposed limestone outcroppings--"shelves" extending out from the banks that the flowing water had created. This seemed unusual because, aside from a few smallish rocks in the creek itself, I'd seen nothing like what was up ahead. As we approached, I began to see large patches on the rocks that were reflecting the sunlight. Since I assumed that the outdroppings were limestone, I thought that these patches were calcite. But when I finally came to the rocks, I realized that what I was seeing was neither limestone nor calcite but a large deposit of gypsum--perhaps 100 yards long and about 4 feet thick, exposed by the creek, which had cut a path right through it on its way to the Arkansas River. Gypsum is very soft--you can scratch it with your fingernail--so it's not as though the creek had performed an especially mighty feat. But I WAS impressed to realize that this outcropping of gypsum was at the bottom of a ravine about 20 feet deep that this "little" creek had created.
The attaining of knowledge sometimes costs little; sometimes it is hard-won. What I had stumbled onto out of casual curiosity had cost the creek hundreds of years. But I'd have to say that this creek's expenditure of time was worth that cost, for it acquired its name as a result: Gypsum Creek.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

was in a sentimental mood today and started google-streetviewing the house I grew up in wichita back in the 70s. discovered, then, the name of the creek that ran by the old house - Gypsum Creek. a few more searches later and I came across your site. thought you might like to know that the creek was very important to someone back in the day ... I can tell you all kinds of things about it ... so full of life and adventure for a little kid - great fishing, snake-catching, minnow-seining, etc. I could write a book about it ... not so long ago I thought to google a picture of Graham's watersnake (the snake specie that inhabited the creek back then) and when I saw the image online I swear to god I suddenly recalled the SMELL of the snake! wondering now if the creek is as alive now as it was back then ...