It starts with a maze of narrow, bustling cross streets and then the ducking down stair steps to sidle up with the “river.” The river is contained and constricted within concrete walls, blanketed by streets overhead and overlooked by patios and skyscrapers. Near the waterway, there are smells and debris. City workers in bright yellow vests sweep up the morning-dampened Fiesta confetti deposited the night before. Mallard ducks float by; a barge with nets on either side filters out jetsam from the weekend festivities.
There are diversions. I have to go back up the stairs and over a bridge, negotiating traffic again. And then back down to the river where a spillway relinquishes control. The land starts to open where the walls pull back and brush covered slopes ease towards the water.
Further downstream there is grass and rocks. There’s a continual buzz of insects and flora cling to walls. A neighborhood of quiet decorum and proud architecture sighs alongside the water, offering the allure of its side streets. Approaching a high school’s grounds I see kids wandering towards school. Or perhaps they’re meandering away, motivation withering as spring starts to suggest summer.
There’s a white shorebird in the middle of the stream, now far from people and overpasses. I think it’s an egret, but I don’t know birds well enough to be so acquainted with its family. I admire its choice of habitat. Water starts to roam and spread. Hard concrete walkways and rigid walls give way to open grassland and a gravel path; and I can cross the stream just below frothing spills, where stone steps provide quick hops from one edge to the other. This path continues, the sign points. There’s a brewery and artists’ complex on the near horizon, and further beyond old missions. Community parks are in between.
The water relaxes more. There are ripples and a real flow cascading over rocks. Wetlands start to sneak legitimately along the shore, and in some places metal grates provide a dry path over water. I do a double-take passing the shallows here: Snakes. They’re under the water, long bodies extending out of the dark crevices. Not cute snakes, but long biblical snakes with steely upstream gazes. They get nervous as I get closer and duck under cover, still submerged, to where I can’t find them. I’m reminded that they’re always there, seen or not.
Turning a bend, there’s a train flying above me on an old trestle made out of wood timbers. I run directly underneath and listen to the clang and moan of trucks and wheels, while the wood of the support structure creaks under the rolling weight straight above me. A park is on the other side, and then a bridge, and then a coherent way to start my loop back.
I make my way back upstream, back to where the water is contained and controlled, back to the smells of the old city, the old tourists, humanity and their collective weight in general. And I rise back to the street above form where I’d started, egrets and snakes and trains all behind.