That Bend in Winter: A Hidden Landscape

Waiting for the Return

Feb. 24, 2021

We are quite a bit late posting a winter photograph for our ongoing series documenting the same bend in Houston’s Buffalo Bayou throughout the seasons. Our devoted and generous photographer Big Jim Olive is living with his beloved in fiery California these days where the air is supposed to be better. But he still frequently returns to his native Texas for photography jobs and visits with his many friends. Founder and executive director of the Christmas Bay Foundation, he also participates with other volunteers in Texas Parks and Wildlife’s annual Abandoned Crab Trap Removal program, which takes place from February 19-28.

Last week he was on his way, driving cross country, stopping to take photos of icy cacti. But by Seguin the frozen, snowy highway was closed, and after two nights in a motel there Jim was forced to turn back, leaving behind the excellent barbecue.

He’s returning this week, despite the forecast for stormy (warm) weather. But in the meantime the backup photographer had already gone out into the forbidden woods of the city’s Memorial Park to document that bend in winter. The fear was that winter would soon be over before Jim returned, despite the historic weather that froze the city and state just a few days earlier, leaving us all in the dark.

Frozen. Still Living. Still Closed. Sighting of a River Otter. Dumping of Picnic Tables

Whether you think a bare winter landscape is lovely is a matter of personal taste. For some people, the sight of seemingly dead trees and plants can be alarming. Will they come back?  But winter, particularly a harsh and deadly winter, however disturbing, does reveal a landscape that would ordinarily be hidden.

On a happy note, we did receive after the freeze a report of multiple sightings of a river otter in the bayou across from the park around Pine Hill. And many have surely noticed the flocks of handsome cedar waxwings in the city flitting from tree to tree, often yaupon, feasting on berries.

Looking downstream in winter at Buffalo Bayou from a high bank in Memorial Park, another installment in our ongoing series, A Bend in the River. Photo by SC, Feb. 20, 2021, because JO wasn’t there yet.

The popular trail through the bayou woods on the southeast side of Houston’s Memorial Park was still fenced off and posted with the same fictitious warning signs. In fact, the gates to the Picnic Loop itself were still locked on this sunny, warm Saturday after the horrible freeze. No doubt this was due to a shortage of staff still coping with the disastrous impact of the winter weather. People were forced to park their cars in any spot they could find and squeeze with their kids and bikes and strollers through or around the gates.

Flow in the bayou was around 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) and dropping.

Looking upstream from the same high bank at the costly and damaging concrete walls and riprap needlessly installed by the River Oaks Country Club. Photo Feb. 20, 2021

Violets and Dandelions

After documenting the bend upstream and down, we ventured further down the path and reached the steep banks of the creek that flows from the center of the park, noting that there were several new spontaneous foot paths through the woods.

The ground was mostly bare, scattered with spikey sweetgum seed balls, which like pine needles (see also here), black willows, American beautyberry, and many other things growing on the bayou, have medicinal qualities. The small green leaves of edible wild violets and dandelions were peeking hopefully out of the earth. (Before the freeze, in another part of the park, we had seen some young stinging nettle, a delicacy served in the finest Parisian restaurants.) The water in the winding creek was clear and made a gentle tinkling sound as it flowed over the sand and woody debris. There were large trees fallen across the creek, and in a youthful past the backup photographer, who grew up on the bayou, might have carefully stepped or scooted across these bridges laid down by nature. Or at least watched her brother do it.

Fallen trees lying across a creek, a tributary of Buffalo Bayou that flows from the center of Memorial Park. Photo Feb. 20, 2021

The bare winter landscape revealed a haphazard pile of concrete picnic tables, benches, and grills that had apparently been removed from the Picnic Loop and tossed in the woods near the creek. We’ll ask about this thoughtless trashing of the park.

Concrete picnic tables, benches and grills tossed in the woods of Memorial Park near the creek. Photo Feb. 20, 2021

The Bayou in the Snow

Here’s the way the bayou looked on Feb. 15 after the snow.

SC

2 thoughts on “That Bend in Winter: A Hidden Landscape”

  1. Don says:

    Did y’all see a bunch of dead fish in the bayou from the freeze ?

    1. Not yet. But our board member Bruce Bodson has seen a lot of dead invasive fish like tilapia floating to the surface out at his place off of Oyster Creek near Missouri City. Texas Parks and Wildlife also reports “brutal” fish kills in the bays and freshwater, reports Bruce, who is also the founder of Lower Brazos Riverwatch and a board member of the Christmas Bay Foundation.

      We maybe should have mentioned the large number of dead and dying Mexican free-tailed bats that froze in their homes underneath the Waugh Bridge over Buffalo Bayou in downtown’s Buffalo Bayou Park.

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