A YOUNG GOAT CRIED OUT FROM THE CAVE
When I told my son we were going hiking today, he looked at me blankly, shut his eyes, and smeared his face slowly with the palm of his hand. Like, “Why do these people hike all the time?” “My dad is still fat.” “What happened to Sundays stretched out on the chaise lounge in flip-flops, stretchin’ out the toes, flippin’ channels on tv for some me-time?” Yeah, I know, son. But let’s go.
I went out to the backyard to see how hot it was, and my grass was already yellowing, not a cloud in the sky. Just a sunny beat down. My wife had mentioned a long time ago that she would like to check out the Goat Cave, aka Karst Nature Preserve. I told her that I’d already been, and that it was tucked in a South Austin neighborhood on Davis Lane. I knew there would be plenty of shade, and caves. Caves always send my mind into deep imaginings. You see a dark hole, with ledges of limestone, a helix staircase spiraling into a void, and wait for rushing, cool drafts to blow over you like ghosts. Could there be bats, rattlesnakes, skulls and bones?
There’s a very short trail, but the preserve is lush. The Live Oaks are slim, 70 feet tall, covering the sky, and the whole preserve is thriving with elm trees, Gum bully trees, Ashe’s juniper, and waves of Beebalm and Indian blanket wildflowers. But what gets you out of the box is the caves. Thinking about those caves under your feet, the echoes of waterdrops, salamanders with turtleshell spots, breathing heavily, scrambling across the wet rocks with their suction cups, as bats fidget and prepare for their night flights, red eyes glowing.
There are three caves on the preserve. Wade’s cave, Hideout cave, and Goat Cave. Wade’s cave looked like a mine shaft, and I was surprised how close it was to the main road. We then took my son to Hideout Cave and let him put on a headlight and step inside, after I checked it for snakes and critters. I love watching a child step into wonder. He descended carefully, using his arms and legs, and crouched into position in front of the gate and pointed his light into the darkness. The way he smiled back at me, I knew he’d crossed the plane into the wondrous.
My wife had been complaining of mosquito bites, and she tweaked and twitched like she had on a shock collar, every time she got bit, so we found a clearing to pull out our bug spray. Every time we need something, I have to turn around so they can unzip my backpack, which fits me like a toy parachute on a fat kid, and they tug at the zippers, yanking me this way and that. I stood there as she took out the spray, and then I heard her shriek and yell. Oh shit. I turned around and she was fanning her eyes feverishly. She had pointed the eucalyptus acid spray the wrong direction and had zapped herself with nature’s bug killer juice right in her eyeball as it burned and burned, my son and I watching on, helplessly. She used up half of her water to wash out her eye, and we were on our way.
Which led us to Goat cave. Goat cave is surrounded by a 12 foot fence, topped with barbed wire, and two trail cameras wrapped around trees in front of the gate. There’s a sign there with a story about the cave from a 1957 article in the Statesman. A young boy by the name of Eli Garza discovered the cave in the thirties on the Alfred Wade ranch. He visited again in the fifties and climbed down onto the first ledge and heard a young goat crying out in the lower chamber, 35 feet below. He and three others dropped down and carried the goat out after chasing it in the cave. I can just picture them looking in, climbing down the slick rocks, sunlight beaming down the hole, like Jonah’s whale, the goat crying out, hooves clicking on the limestone, dust suspended in the air, floating across the rays of the sun.
We continued on the trail across miniature meadows of Black-eyed Susan wildflowers and young elm, and found another hidden cave entrance under a canopy of trees. We left there and made our way out behind the preserve to a large storm watershed, covered with Indian blanket flowers. On our way back to the entrance, I heard some hikers on the far east side, and saw their golden retriever pass through the woods. I wasn’t aware of a trail on that side, so I thought maybe they were on the other side of the barbed wire. And of course, this was reason enough for my wife and I to turn into hounds and sniff around for another trail. We couldn’t find it so we walked down the sidewalk in front of the preserve to take a peek on the other side. My wife just started walking into the greenbelt and disappeared around the bend.
We saw an abandoned white sofa sitting in the woods, a bench, and a broken pullup tower in the middle of the greenbelt. We kept following the trails which revealed meadow after meadow of yellow daisies and fat juniper trees. We followed one trail that jutted out over a hill and discovered a rancid pond, with countless tadpole frogs vibrating on the dirt of the bank. My son told me to check out something to the right and I saw a bamboo shelter under construction. Looked like a tiki hut. All I knew was this was somebody’s crib, by some nuclear waste, with mutant tadpole frogs flopping around like jumping beans on the ground. I got the hell out of there. My wife was like, “Wait up! Where are you going?” I was gone.
We made it to the end of this trail, by another large storm watershed by an apartment complex. We all looked down at our legs. My sweatpants were covered with cockelburs, and my wife and son’s shins were blotched with red spots from the prickly whiskers of the wildflower grasses. Man, was I ready to go. We headed back, the weeds and dead branches reaching out for our legs like beggars, the red sunburst leading us home.