Walking in the Streambed

I almost called this blog post “walking on water,” but don’t have the hubris for that title.

This afternoon, for Zoe’s supper walk, we went down to the streambed that runs west to east south of our house. We didn’t go far—these days, just walking about as far as the stream is almost the limit of Zoe’s walk, and I haven’t scouted the streambed well enough to trust the ice on it yet. It seemed solidly frozen over, but I know from experience that there is almost always running water under the ice and places in the creek that don’t freeze over.

The creek is called “Dry Creek,” and for the first couple of years we lived here, it lived up to its name several times a year. Usually in high summer—the dry July-August seasons—and often in winter, the creek would completely dry up and the sandy bottom would become a convenient place for a ramble.

Over the years, the kids, Audrey and I, and sometimes Zoe, have enjoyed a walk east or west along this impromptu trail.

Before the Lost Quarry neighborhood was built up, we often headed east towards Marion. The creek is blocked by a fence right beside a meadow that you could turn and walk through to head back to home on a walk through the beginnings of the neighborhood. It was also fun to keep track on the project when the new streets and houses were going into the neighborhood.

There are not as many deer in the meadow now that the houses are built, although deer are still fairly common in the streambed.

One snowless, not so cold Christmas break, Nina and I set out in the other direction, east towards Hiawatha. It’s no the most efficient way to travel, what with an uneven, sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky, sometimes rather muddy trail, but even in Cedar Rapids you quickly get to “woods” in that direction, an area where you can’t see the houses due to the trees. I like the contrast between different times of year headed in that direction. In the summer, of course, you can enjoy the trees and wild plants—and enjoy not walking through tick-infested undergrowth and still be out enjoying the outdoors. In the late fall or winter, there is the pleasure of no bugs and being able to see deeper into the trees, to see the shape of the land.

To be honest, I do have a preference for green, and, despite the bugs, would rather see the leaves than the shape of the land, but each can be interesting.

Deer, hawks, wood chucks, rabbits, woodpeckers and other assorted cirtters can occasionally be seen during these rambles. Sometimes, wild turkey.

A few nights, I’ve seen a big (and loud) owl who lives in the streambed. One time, he or she was sitting in one of the ash trees right behind our fence, and pretty much ignored Zoe and I as we walked. He or she and I have exchanged “who” calls on a few nights, too.

Also in the evening, I’ve seen opossums back there.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a live opossum. They are about the freakiest, most robotic, scary looking live animal that you might ever encounter. I would much rather tangle with an opossum than a skunk, but frankly am just as happy encountering neither. There is a difference between bats and opossums. Bats are freaky scary too, but a bit fun to watch. Opossums are just freaky.

Anyway, I don’t really ever walk in the steam at night, except in a dry winter during a full moon. Don’t want to encounter any furry strangers I can’t see.  Most of the owl sightings have been from the comfort of the sidewalk.

The oddest experience I ever had was one time Zoe and I walked down to the stream onetime when it wasn’t dry. We sometimes walk back there beside the waters, and it was a nice summer day (the same June I want to Mexico, as a matter of fact). On the way back, a large woodchuck that had been ambling along our fence in the wood spotted us as we were returning. We were near the creek, the woodchuck was near the fence.


From Huntington Univeristy in Huntington, IN, an image of a foot-stomping mammel.

Woodchucks are not freaky, scary animals like opossums, but they are big. They seem a bit slow, in both a literal and mental sense. This one spotted an unidentified biped and a wood-chuck sized (but pretty inexperienced and harmless) carnivore, and clearly panicked. I know woodchucks don’t have facial expression, but this one jumped a few inches, shook all over and then took up tear-ass running as fast as its stubbly little legs could propel its stout little body, clearly in a complete frenzy.

But running straight at us. I was wearing sandals and the stupid woodchuck stomped on my foot as it tore by, way too fast for me to react. Zoe? I’m not sure she noticed.

Woodchuck holes are located near the creek, and I suppose when startled, this dim little critter’s instinct was to run home and jump in it’s hole, and it didn’t stop to think that I was between it and its home.

The walks have usually been very pleasant, although there was one dry summer day when a wasp crawled between Jon’s shirt and chest and stung him 3 times while crawling out. At least he noted that by the third sting, the nasty beast was about out of venom …

Have not had many recent walks in Dry Creek. It has been more than a year since the creek last went dry. These days, it always has water.

We speculate that it could have to do with the slow spread of urban development in the creek watershed—that there is more runoff from pavement. Perhaps. In 2008, record flooding hit the Cedar River that Dry Creek eventually flows into after being a tributary of Indian Creek. The Army Corp of Engineers has said that protecting Cedar Rapids would be too expensive because another 2008 flood is unlikely and the flood control costs more than the property saved. I’m skeptical for two reasons—the property has to be replaced more than once if there is more than one flood, and experts say Iowa is becoming more flood prone.

I know it’s anecdotal, but in December Dry Creek flooded. It’s never done that before (it’s flooded plenty of times, just not in December). It has not been dry in more than a year. There is a snow pack that must be 14 inches deep and it seems to be just getting deeper.

Another flood? Doesn’t seems so far-fetched to me.


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