Out on the Bayou on a Chilly Saturday Morning
Winter Photo of that Bend in the River by Jim Olive
Jan. 14, 2018
We had to wait a while for a sunrise that wasn’t foggy. Finally the skies cleared, and just after dawn we headed through the woods of Memorial Park for our winter shot of that bend in the bayou that we have been documenting since the summer of 2014.
It was cold! Barely above freezing. Fortunately Jim had brought some extra gloves for his assistant, who carried the tripod through the trees down the winding dirt path carpeted with dried sycamore leaves, carefully eyeing the leaning but stalwart trunk of the headless giant loblolly pine that had died in the drought of 2011. Several summers ago on this path we had encountered a giant rat snake curled up in the remains of a 100-year-old concrete pipe from the days of Camp Logan, the World War I military training camp that occupied the park before it was a park. No need to worry about snakes in the cold, pointed out Jim, as we stepped over a decaying log. Not that a harmless rat snake is anything to worry about. Jim, an expert naturalist, commented that the big snake was likely curled up asleep deep inside the shelter of the pipe.
The landscape was much changed. It was winter, for one thing, so there was more visibility through the leafless trees and vegetation. Also there were fewer trees and vegetation, so much having slid and fallen into the bayou with the sloughing of the banks during and after Harvey. The bayou, flowing at about 600 cubic feet per second, was much closer to the path, the flooding river having washed down the banks while at the same time piling new sediment on top of them.
We could hardly locate our regular spot, the bank was so changed. Our landmarks were gone. We walked back and forth looking for the angle, though we had taken a photo in October for our fall shot. To make things more difficult, the rising winter sun was shining directly into our eyes and into Jim’s camera. Jim was discouraged. Should we could come back later? But we waited, sheltering behind some yaupon branches. And eventually the sun hit the opposite bank, and Jim got his shot.
Looking Back at 2017
What Happened in 2017? Some Things We Remember Besides Harvey
Permit Issued for Bad Project. Bad Project Is Killed
Also Boy Scouts, Bottles, That Big Horrible Flood, and Alligators
Jan. 7, 2018
Updated Jan. 8 with more photos
The year 2017 started off for Save Buffalo with our editorial in the Houston Chronicle warning against the folly of believing that cutting down trees and widening and deepening our bayous and streams is the most effective response to flooding. Nobody does that any more. It’s counterproductive, damaging, and costly. The practical focus is on stopping stormwater before it floods a stream. But in Houston developer and engineering interests as well as politicians continue unwisely to call for bigger and more expensive drainage pipes and “improving” our bayous and waterways at great taxpayer and environmental expense. Widening the floodplain would be a good idea, creating Room for the River, as the Chronicle has reported as part of its excellent series in the wake of Harvey. Save Buffalo Bayou has been talking about Room for the River, working with nature, for years. That means not building in flood-prone areas and buyouts of buildings in the way, among other things.
Then in January Terry Hershey died, one of Houston’s inspirational environmental leaders, a protector of Buffalo Bayou.
In April Jim Olive went up in the air and took a stunning series of photographs, including the photo above, of Buffalo Bayou flowing past Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary in the middle of Houston. You can see the photos here. You might also want to look at our series, A Bend in the River, documenting the changes in a bend of the bayou through the seasons.
Later that month, after a delay of nearly two years following the last public comment period, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit for the long-delayed Harris County Flood Control District project to strip, dredge, and reroute over a mile of this stretch of the river, a historic nature area and one of the last forested, publicly-accessible stretches of the bayou. We asked and waited impatiently for the Environmental Assessment required by law.
While we waited an amazing trove of bottles and broken glass from the early twentieth century surfaced on the bank below the high cliff on the eastern edge of Memorial Park, an area designated a State Antiquities Landmark. This high bluff and the rest of this historic area would have been destroyed by the flood control district’s “restoration” project. You can thank Save Buffalo Bayou that it wasn’t.