Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life's A River, Kid ...

... ya gotta go where it takes you.

"Houston has no soul."
"Houston is just a slab of concrete."
"Houston is a bunch of strip malls."

These are the kind of things you hear about the city where I live. To tell you the truth, I've never understood these sorts of comments. Yes, Houston has a lot of freeways and more than its fair share of malls. However, the city I live in (emphasis on city - not the suburbs) is a surprisingly verdant urban landscape criss-crossed with bayous and parks. You have only to leave the freeway and head into the neighborhoods to find someone with a horse in his backyard, a community garden in an industrial area, or a walking trail crossing an urban wetland.

Case in point: the Buffalo Bayou. The Buffalo Bayou is a waterway that cuts right through the center of Houston. Due to the work of diligent preservationists, the bayou has not been encased in concrete like many of Houston's bayous, but is kept in its natural state. The bayou provides a home for wildlife, a natural oasis for Houston's residents, and a place for adventurous types to play.

That's me. An adventurous type.

Well ... I pretended to be adventurous on Saturday, when I joined friends Andy, Dave, and Katie in kayaking on the Buffalo Bayou.

Katie was the one who designed and executed this outing. She received a Groupon advertising the kayaking tours of the Buffalo Bayou Shuttle Service, and emailed a bunch of friends to see who was up for the excitement. A few of us answered the call and set about coordinating our schedules and reserving our spots on the "Navigators" tour.

We arrived (after being lost for 20 minutes) at the Briar Bend Park where our kayaks would put in. After some paddling instruction (most of us had kayaked before) the guides got us settled in our boats, and we were off.

Even though I've lived within 5-10 blocks of the bayou for several years, and I've made walking along the bayou a regular part of my day-to-day in Houston, I was unprepared for the peace and calm of being on the water. It was as if the bustling city ceased to exist ...

... except for the fact that the shopping carts and trash that have been thrown into the bayou periodically pointed out to us that this watershed is in the process of being rehabilitated from a state of pollution. Our guides told us that it's cleaner that it was a few years ago, but it's still not recommended for drinking or swimming.

Nevertheless, kayaking the Buffalo Bayou was a that nature fights for a place even in the most urban of environments. As we navigated around submerged roots and branches, we saw a snowy egret unfolding its wings against the black-green of the vegetation; heard the squeak of the 150,000 bats living under the Chimney Rock bridge and keeping the mosquitoes at bay.

Andy and I shared a tandem kayak, and as we paddled along, free of distractions, conversation waxed philosophical (and irreverent, 'cuz that's how we roll), and I was struck by the way that, when stripped of the brain-bursting noise of modern society, connection becomes much easier.

Even though our trip meant rising semi-early on a Saturday (normally a sacrilege in my little world) I couldn't ask for a better way to start a weekend. The truth is, nature is always close by if we choose to see it. Every city has a soul, but not every soul pays attention.


Shelley said...

rumbLove it!
All the haters that say Houston is soul-less should stay away. They aren't good for the landscape.

Wish I could've joined y'all!

Catfish said...

We wish you were there too, Shelley!