Born of an ice age, the eight-kilometre creek called Bowker was created by the withdrawal of glaciers, and is threatened by the advance of urbanization. Today it flows for over half its length underground. Neither deep nor wide, it has nevertheless had an enduring effect on atmosphere, landscape, wildlife and the people who have lived near it.
Throughout the seasons, Barbara Julian walked Bowker Creek from its emergence on the UVIC campus to its sparkling bird-filled estuary across from the Oak Bay Marina, keeping an illustrated journal now published as Walking Bowker: Befriending an Urban Creek. The book explores the history, ecology and esthetics of the creek, and its diminished yet persistent role in the present.
Bowker once passed through a wild, then an agricultural and finally an urbanized landscape. Its long-lost elk, salmon and giant evergreens, its bordering dairy herds and sloping hay fields can now only be visualized in imagination. Birds and wildlife still rely on Bowker’s hidden reaches and its picturesque estuary for habitat. A few camping homeless humans too hide along its friendly banks. These are folks who know the creek and whom Julian greets as the ‘Green Men.’
“Bowker has lost its wet hinterlands, companion plants, debris-filtering rooty soil, fallen-branch dams, salmon pools, pauses and meanders, yet it carries on flowing through debased landscape and public debate.”
It hosts life on the margins: deer, Canada geese, squirrels, raccoons, blackberries (beloved by pickers), and the tough drought-tolerant European willows which form an honour guard along much of its length. Walking Bowker celebrates the creek’s feral, ‘outlaw’ qualities, and reflects on ‘re-wilding’ in nature’s way.
Over half the ‘Bowker walk’ travels roads under which the creek flows through dark concrete tunnels. A Bowker walk must include the tunnels, but they are scary and difficult to enter: ice cold, pitch black, not for the faint of heart. Julian visits several entrances (each colourfully decorated with graffiti) and finally works up the bravado to go a short way inside, re-emerging with the same relief and triumph the creek seems to feel at its repeated resurrections into daylight.
What are the chances of Bowker’s paved sections ever being uncovered? Not good, concludes Julian, but to its intimates, Bowker’s beleaguered and veiled persistence is part of its charm.
Walking Bowker is available at local shops and through www.walkingbowker.blogspot.ca Updates are at www.twitter.com/bowkerwalking.