Down on the Bayou in Summertime

Documenting the Changes on that Bend in the River

July 5, 2021

The silver threads suspended across our path glistened in the early morning sun. We apologized for smashing through the delicate traps the spiders had worked on during the night, weaving the nearly invisible sticky webs from one side of the narrow trail to the other.

It was just after sunrise on a hot summer morning, though technically we had a couple of days to go before the official start of summer. Our devoted photographer Jim Olive was finally back in town, and we were walking down a dirt path between tall pines and thick stands of cherry laurel, yaupon and young American beautyberry, headed towards that bend in Houston’s Buffalo Bayou we have been documenting since the spring of 2014. (See the entire series here.)

Looking downstream at Buffalo Bayou from a high bank in Memorial Park on June 18, 2021. Flow was high, over 2,000 cubic feet per second. River Oaks Country Club golf course on the opposite bank. Photo by Jim Olive.

Apparently we were the first large creatures on this unofficial trail through Memorial Park’s bayou woods this morning. These public woods are technically closed by the private Memorial Park Conservancy, with ever increasing wire and wooden fencing and piles of cut branches blocking the entrances from the parking lots off the Picnic Loop south of Memorial Drive. But the popular, long-established path was obviously well used and even maintained by anonymous volunteers. It’s true, however, that hiking or running along the edge of the high bank is destabilizing. It’s best to keep to the interior of the woods.

We reached our spot on the high bank. Jim set up his tripod and waited for just the right light. The assistant wandered off, as usual.

Wandering through the bayou woods, admiring the morning sun on the trees. Photo by SC.

The cicadas sang in the trees, a rattling rising and falling. Beneath the towering sycamores, oaks, cottonwoods, elm, and pine, the woods were populated with blossoming dewberries, elderberries, mulberry, as well as the aforementioned beautyberry.

We heard excited young female voices. We walked downstream towards the nearby sandy creek and found two fit young women using the rope swing suspended from the trees above the stream to cross from one bank to the other. Usually the water is clear and the flow low enough simply to step and jump across. The creek is one of the main tributaries draining and flowing from the center of Memorial Park into the bayou. (See this 1955 topographic map of Buffalo Bayou flowing between Memorial Park and the River Oaks Country Club.)

Here is another lovely photo Jim took, in addition to the above photo of the bend. This is looking upstream at the River Oaks Country Club golf course, in recent years stripped of trees, graded, and reinforced with sheet pile and concrete in three areas, much to the detriment of the bayou and the public.


Looking upstream at high flow from a high bank on Buffalo Bayou towards the River Oaks Country Club golf course. The long-standing high bank in the distance has been stripped, graded, and reinforced with concrete and sheet pile. Photo by Jim Olive on June 18, 2021.

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