Feb 20, 2011

unexpected nature

Ten Mile Creek runs through the heart of West Knoxville's sprawl, accompanied in segments by a paved greenway. Today I hiked there, and I found it clogged with privet and bush honeysuckle to the point that little else grows. The canopy is native trees, but much of the understory is invaders. Native vines have been crowded out and replaced by honeysuckle and bittersweet.

Recent construction has respected the creek more than a few older developments with flat grades and rubble piled to the lip of the creekbed. Such earth moving restricts the floodplain, raising floodwaters. Sprawl's parking lots, rooftops and roadways allow less rain to soak into the ground. Instead, it finds its way quickly to creeks, which overtop their banks more often.

Scouring along Ten Mile is a culprit in the absence of biodiversity. Much of the seed bank that might have restored native plants after construction was washed away in sprawl-exacerbated floods. The sprawlyburbs are flood-prone by design. That is why it is comforting amid all that ecological damage to see life persevere.

Ten Mile Creek Greenway curls between a fence and an artificial cliff at the edge of the Sam's Club/Walmart complex. The cliff is constructed of wire-baled rocks, but the trees below were not cut, so large tulips, sycamores, hackberries and others butt up against the fake cliff. Below that fence and through the woods, a wetland remains, and I saw ducks in the water.

I stopped to look through binoculars and found two pair of mallards feasting on aquatic plants. I heard a rustling from the leaves on the other side of the fence, looked down and discovered a hermit thrush flipping leaves and hopping toward a rusted shopping cart of uncertain age. Around the next bend I stopped to scan the wetlands from another vantage point and noticed a lump on a limb overhead. It was a sleeping raccoon curled into a cradle of tree limbs.

Nearby I saw a Cooper's hawk fly up from the creek to a low perch. It was probably cleaning itself after devouring a small bird. A few native alders linger in the sea of privet.

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