for Beth and MaryBeth
I had just climbed down from the pylon and dropped onto the lower stone wall. It felt like I was jumping off from a roof. My wife laughed at me and used her hands to show me that I was only six inches from touching down. A Red Admiral butterfly fluttered around my shoe and flew away. I dropped to the dirt and dusted off my hands, squinting my eyes to look through my glasses at the end of my nose, when they walked up. I smiled, and pushed my glasses back. I was breathing hard, but I made it down. Golden bars of light pierced holes in the sky and dust moved all around me like smoke.
“Oh, are y'all doing graffiti?” the younger one said, approvingly.
“Yeah, we’re just tagging the walls,” I said, straight-faced.
“No, I’m just kidding. Not at all, just stepping down from the stonewall trying to get a better view. But yeah, it looks like someone did take a can of spray to the columns, unfortunately…Teenage rage and paint, I guess.”
“I thought ya’ll were painting the stones to look like the skyline…” She motioned side to side with her hand.
My wife and I turned around to see. Wow, she was right. It was painted to mimic a skyscraper.
“I wish there was a place where they could go and get all of this out,” she said, moving her hands around in flowing circles. “Part of me thinks it’s beautiful, you know. That it’s art. But I don’t think they have a place for it.” She tucked a long strand of hair behind her ear. There was a youthful goodwill and not an ounce of judgment in her voice.
“Well, at least they’re hiking,” I said, and we all laughed. “I mean, they had to work hard to get up here…But I think there is a place. I think it’s called Graffiti Park.”
We talked to the mother and daughter, a student at Texas State, for the next 20 minutes about Zilker preserve, and other green spaces in Austin. The daughter, born and raised in Austin, said she used to come here for lunch almost every day when she was in high school. Today was her first time back in two years. She told us that she would come out here to decompress and meditate. She closed her eyes when she said this, fanning the air to her face. She told my wife she thought about being an Art teacher and said she dabbled with writing and had some stuff on Wordpress. I just listened, refreshed to watch a young person opening up, testing her wings before taking off...I never realized this until now, but this is what every older person feels when they talk to someone young.
I spoke to the mother about a story I’m writing on Blunn Creek Preserve and she told me about another place called MUNY. I knew it was a golf course but I didn’t know it was a 100 year-old green space in danger of being lost. When I heard this, I started to clench my fist like Arthur (the cartoon character. Where’s my close-up?). The daughter cupped her hands together and said she used to rescue little turtles when she was a kid and take them to the ponds at MUNY. The mother told me they used to picnic there too, and told me about all of the gorgeous heritage trees on the grounds. I found out it had a recharge zone and a wildlife preserve. I was floored. She said you can just go in and walk around. No golf attire? No, it’s public. It’s Austin. That’s the point.
She said the city’s lease with UT, who owns it, is up. They’re going month to month now until UT decides what to do with it. There’s a conservancy called Save MUNY trying to save it. First golf course to be desegregated south of the Mason Dixon line. (There’s a story about Mayor Taylor Glass in 1951 and Councilwoman Emma Long that everyone should read.) I told her I’d spread the word, and Vanessa and I committed to hiking it.
We told them what nice people they were and we bid them goodbye. We headed down the switchbacks to the cliffs. Without the foliage, I could see almost all of the cliff faces of the 100 foot walls. I looked up at it like I was going to scale it.
“Bobby!” she shouted. She knew what I was thinking.
“Alright, I won’t.” I’m too fat anyways. But I might be able to make it up, I thought. But as I’ve painfully learned before, that doesn’t mean you can make it down. I could just see myself falling like King Kong in a landslide, after getting tail-swiped by Godzilla, the brittle clay and soft limestone bursting, breaking apart, and breaking my fall. Little rocks hissing down the walls. One last breath from Hiker Kong, and roll Credits. I think I’ll stay down here.
We went back up the trail and walked under a corridor of bare branches that formed an arc over us. That’s when we noticed a tree in blossom. There were clusters of white flowers, the petals open and singing with bright, white stamens and pink anthers. We stopped to identify the plant with my ‘Picture This’ App. We heard someone coming.
“Don’t mind us. Just some nerds identifying plants,” I said to an elderly man with white hair and a white beard. I fumbled to keep my no-case, slippery phone in my hand. He just walked right up to us, pulled out his phone as well, and did the same thing.
“Early bloom,” he said. That was all that he said. All three of us just stood there together on the trail, without saying a word, admiring a cluster of blossoms from a Mexican Plum.
We walked further down to the dry, great riverbed which looked like a collapsed highway after an earthquake, now shattered into large boulders and plates. Immoveable. I hiked it. I was itching for some challenging terrain. I got my Kung Fu Panda on, walking across the rocks like wooden stilts with my hiking stick. It was then that I noticed a lovely live oak to my right, on the bank. I walked past the tree to a rock outcropping and turned around.
What I saw took my breath away. This was surely the early budding of Spring. White plum tree flowers dotted & decorated the green boughs and dark branches of the Live Oak. Fuzzy, buzzing bees stopped to hover, and darted away in jagged loops, flying away for more nectar.
Fairies waving wands could have appeared flying by with trails of glitterdust, the wooded scene was so storybook. A new season comes. Spring is not far away.
“Come up here, babe!”
We had a birthday dinner to get to so we had to get back. I convinced my wife to go up to Lookout Point again on the way back. We enjoyed the view of the Austin skyline once more and walked down the other side of the mountain. A Red Admiral butterfly followed us, frolicking above our heads, bouncing on the air, alive, reminding me of the spirit of the young woman we met today, and the awe of the old man who walked up to us, drawn to the early bloom of a Mexican Plum flower.