Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A stretch of river

Recent visitors here know that we've recently relocated to a place in downtown Wichita that is, as people used to say, hard by the Arkansas River (here is a closer view of where we are, complete with street names). Our location is, hands down, the best aesthetic feature about our new place--and, even better (I think) for purposes of this blog, it gives me both reason and opportunity to continue writing posts in the vein of these two posts from the summer.
Our regular morning walk follows the east bank up to the Murdoch Street bridge; we cross the river there and then head down the west bank to the Nims Street bridge, where we cross over again and head home. That walk is about a mile in all. In the afternoon, when Mrs. Meridian accompanies us, we take side trips into the park. The Arkansas River is a major river in terms of length; but, as the Wikipedia article notes, it doesn't get very broad until it reaches southern Arkansas. Here in Wichita, the river is about 100 yards wide and, because of various flood-control measures upstream, is amazingly calm. Just this morning, I watched as some young mallard ducks paddling downstream left wakes that, at their widest points, almost spanned the width of the river. Nor is the river very deep here; I've seen cranes well away from the banks standing in water less than a foot deep.
Readers may remember that in my Gypsum Creek posts, I marvelled at the fact that that small space had a bird population almost completely distinct from those I'd see around our house, only a couple hundred yards away from the creek. No such distinct population exists here, so far as I can tell. The ducks, Canada geese and various cranes are there because of the water; pigeons, doves, robins, and various sparrows are there because it's the center of an urban area. Scruffy is especially enamored of the geese, who sleep on the west side and, if we're early enough, are roused from their sleep by our presence and amble away from us down to the water. But the river does have a rather schizophrenic quality to it along the stretch we walk. The west side is part of the aptly-named Riverside Park: the bank is grassy and mostly exposed, though with some large cottonwood and sycamore trees providing shade. The east side, though, even with the presence of a paved path and a (very) small marina as part of a neighboring aparment complex, is untamed by comparison: the trees are dense, and there's a good bit of unruly low growth forming an understory. It's very dark there and the lights along the path don't work; the presence of some gang tagging at the marina suggests that night walks might be risky there. So, the walk, even in the day, has a bit of an edgy quality to it that the Gypsum Creek walks never had. The edge, though, is urban in nature.
My response to the river is likewise schizophrenic: I find myself wishing that the paved path were in better shape, that whoever is responsible for the east bank stretch (I suspect the three apartment complexes are) would head off an approaching erosion problem and get the lights to working again . . . but then I cross over to the west side and look back at the opposite bank and think, as I did this morning, that, minus the apartments and the downtown skyline, that the river must have looked very much like that at the midpoint of the 19th century, when this area was first settled by whites. Nature may have an underlying order to it that we can discern with a little observation, but clearly it looks, on the surface, unkempt rather than groomed.

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