Why We Live Here

Our house stands in a remote corner of a housing development that bills itself as our fair city’s “First Environmentally Planned Community.” On my crabbiest days I have asserted that its environmental planning is limited to privacy fences and only the blandest exterior paint colors, but now that rain barrels and metal roofs are appearing in impressive numbers, I’m often able to turn my attention to some of the ‘hood’s positive aspects.

We live here because we’re one block away from the Barton Creek Greenbelt, a seven-mile stretch of preserved land that is a vast array of trails, cliffs, waterfalls, and dense foliage. The greenbelt always appears on lists of the top five reasons to be in Austin, and justifiably so – it’s that great. Although I am not the type to go hiking in the woods alone, sometimes in cooler weather I will go with Travis; in late spring and summer my snake and coyote apprehensions keep me out of there. Less for my own sake than the dude’s – what would I do if he was attacked?

Half an inch of rain last Saturday night, the first to fall on our new metal roof, enough to fill the rain barrel and make me wish I’d not procrastinated in procuring three more. What to do with a damp, cloudy Sunday morning but take Travis for a hike in the greenbelt? He waited as patiently as he could for us to get ready and for me to dither between camera and phone (it could rain again) and search fruitlessly for the can of bug spray.

When on foot we generally enter from a gravel path a block from our house, and once off the gravel encountered the kind of dark clay mud that instantly added a slippery pound to the soles of our shoes. Floyd was sensibly in boots but I am slave to poorly constructed feet and so wore inadequate but supportive tennis shoes. Even after the muddy parts end, we’d contend with slippery rocks and tree roots for the next two hours of steady ups and downs.

Because he is a mountain biker, Floyd is very familiar with many miles of the trails that wind through the woods, across creeks, around rocky promontories and along cliffside trails so narrow they raise your heart rate. I’m pretty sure you could drop him into the greenbelt anywhere, and within five minutes he’d know exactly where he was. Me? Within five minutes of my own house I could be hopelessly lost unless Travis was with me.

Travis is as familiar with those trails as Floyd, and he also knows all the shortcuts that take him from one part of a trail to another. Floyd’s friend Deano likes to say about mountain biking with Travis, “It’s like a horror movie: every time you go around a turn, there he is, standing in the middle of the trail!”

How Does He Do It?

I set out in search of some early fall foliage pictures, but of course I’m too unruly to stick to any agenda, even my own. So I took photos as the images struck me.

Although the weather was mild, we were dressed to meet mosquitoes, and just as well. It wasn’t until halfway through our walk that I remembered I’d put the bug spray in my car to take to #1 grandson’s baseball game. Such a helpful place for it to be. I kept my rain jacket zipped all the way up like a turtleneck, sealing me in plastic so effectively I was sure I would melt away pounds of unwanted fat. I did not.

Life in a temperate climate often confuses me: I can’t tell if it’s spring or autumn. Wet weather has given the wildflowers a new lease on life even this late in October.

We walked past many stretches in which long rows of plant flotsam defined the areas where water had rushed through a couple of weeks ago, that night when a whole foot of rain fell. Such events always make me think of the wild critters who must have fled the roaring deluge in complete darkness in search of safer ground. It must be quite a sight.

Beside the trail, a bike chain fashioned into a heart, resting on a ring of rocks someone had placed to protect some tiny cactuses. Although it’s not unusual to see such rock planters, a heart-shaped bike chain is not typical. I stood in my muddy shoes to take this picture and was surprised but not surprised to find out who had placed it there.

Many times when I’ve scrambled carefully down a steep section of the trail, I’ll look back and try to capture a photo that conveys the madness of the drop. So far I have failed to do the phenomenon justice. It must just go without saying that this is not an area of the greenbelt to which I go to practice my paltry mountain biking skills.

All the steep parts look a whole lot steeper in real life.

On this day I only fell once, but I was walking.

There were many stretches of flowers in bloom. Rough photos, I know, but a.) I was using my phone, and b.) every time we stopped for two seconds we were bombarded by bloodthirsty winged creatures celebrating a brief cessation of the drought. Had to hurry.

A hike through the greenbelt is a challenging array of ups and downs, ups and downs. In wet weather every surface is slick. Floyd would reminisce about various trails we’ve hiked together before, but I was unable to say I recognized a thing. Maybe that’s why I become so easily lost out here: I spend roughly 99% of my time looking down to avoid falling. How am I supposed to be able to see where I am?

Not that you would be on a mountain bike around here, I know you wouldn’t; but just in case you were to be on a mountain bike around here, be aware that I’ve been told you aim for the groove between those gray rocks in the next photo. Doesn’t it look like a fun little downhill?

Assuming you are capable of turning around and looking back a few seconds later, this is what you will just have ridden:

A few minutes later, you will be traversing a foot-wide stretch of mud on the rim of a growing sinkhole.

That big rain we had a week ago stripped an impressive amount of soil away from these trees, leaving them to appear more tethered than rooted.

At last a glimpse of the creek. Travis, knowing exactly where we were, urged us to hurry. Until the last big rain, the creek had been nothing but rocks and dust. Now, summer’s over and we may even be looking at a slight reduction in the drought.

Travis cares about none of this. For him, the universe is officially reduced to STICK!

This happens to be the place where Travis took his first swim as a little puppy. I’ve never been down there when there were no other people or dogs. During wet seasons it’s as popular as you would expect: swimming in the creek is a tradition that’s gone on, I imagine, for centuries.

It’s fall. New colors are showing up everywhere.

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