In my townie neighborhood, a small stream trickles through masonry walls on a bed of cement. A heavy downpour doesn’t call it to life so much as flush its trash down the sewer. The city has constructed a path along a short section of this rivulet, and a small trestle bridge allows the fiction of a nostalgic river crossing. When I clunk over its wooden boards I always peer down the concrete canyon, trying to find something alive in the skim – weeds, minnows, even a tadpole. Once, I saw a roadrunner down there doing the same thing. The streambed is as clean as a water trough.
Oklahoma is not noted for waterways, unless you recall that the Cimarron, a great river, is an old west icon of cattle drives, pioneers and Glenn Ford movies. Or take the Canadian River. Like a hopeful ingenue, the Canadian gets both a face-lift and name change as she travels through OKC. She’s been straightened, channelized, and officially renamed the Oklahoma River along a 7-mile stretch. For propriety’s sake, noodling is strictly prohibited on the Oklahoma (but permitted downstream from the 10th Street Bridge). When she hits the city limit, the Oklahoma River sheds her corset and lets her sinuous banks go wild. Her name changes back to Canadian.
A great hidden secret of Oklahoma is its free-running rivers. Even in drought, they are beautiful, winding, primitive and splendid with wildlife. They hold reserves of blue-winged teal, alligator gar, catfish, ebony jewelwing damselflies. Least tern and snowy plover nest in sandy bays. Whooping cranes stopover for food and sleep. Marsh wrens ratchet rudely in the rushes.
One minor hitch to all this native beauty: you can’t get there from here. All the rivers around Oklahoma flow mainly through private property. It’s both a bane and a preservationist’s blessing- out of sight, out of mind, no one there to bother the birds. But access is frustrating difficult, especially if you’re an artist, or a birder, or just someone who wants to wet a line (or noodle a flathead). You have to know someone with a view, basically. Unless you drive across a river and grab a quick look, you can hardly see it and pull-outs are often lacking. If you’d like to see a nice spot on the Canadian River, copy and paste these numbers into the search bar in Google Maps, without the parenthesis. (Mustang Road Canadian crossing @35.325875087261025,-97.72390365600586) Then drag the little person icon onto the bridge to see it in Street View. And watch for traffic.