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FIREFLY GUN



BULL CREEK PT 1


I had half of my body out of the car window, like a dog, looking down at all the fun people were having down in the water swimming and lounging by Bull Creek, just off of 360. I wanna go! But I had to look away. Focus on the hike. Remember. ‘Escape Velocity,’ I told myself. At least, that’s what my friend calls it. He used to say we had to build up enough ‘escape velocity’ to leave our hometown’s gravitational pull to break orbit, and make the move to Austin. Same thing here. I looked ahead and didn’t jump out of the window. I just hugged myself, arms in a straitjacket hold, as I muttered to myself, rocking back and forth.


When we drove onto Spicewood Springs Rd, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I read somewhere that Bull Creek was “Austin’s version of Appalachia,”* and now I know why. I can’t put a finger on it. It’s just different here. The boughs sway differently. The leaves rustle in their own way. Was I projecting? I don’t know. But these woods are lush and make me feel new again. And you can hear the streams making their way over the rocks no matter where you are on the trail. “Do you know how fortunate we are to live here?” I told my wife. “There are trail systems in every part of town. You could live your whole life in Austin and not want for new places to roam.”


They say Bull Creek was named after the last bison that was shot here in the late 1800s. It was also called “Cascade Creek.” Good soil, natural beauty, and plentiful springs attracted early settlement. Mormons built a stretch of road here in 1846 that was heavily used along with many lumber mills in the area. The early settlers formed strong bonds with each other in Bull Creek, often marrying into each other’s families. They were far enough away from Austin to preserve their own country ways and far enough to keep the trappings of modern life at bay. In return, the people here were considered “hillbillies,” and looked down upon for their rustic ways.


Bull Creek has many caves and secret places, and I can’t wait (for part two) to see them for myself. The caves were common hideouts for Union loyalists in Travis County during the Civil War who did not support secession. It’s crazy to think about it: Confederate soldiers in grey, cotton uniforms on horseback, going house to house all around Bull Creek, tracking down Americans who were opposed to the war. I learned that in the 1920s, those same caves were used again for bootleggers of moonshine. An Austin American Statesman article in 1923, ran a headline that read: “Caves in Bull Creek Hills Furnish Safe Retreats for Moonshine Gangs; Officers Get Clue to Nest of Stills.”* I guess we all go to the woods to hide for one reason or the other. We were going today for ours, as well.


*

We drove past the rural section of Spicewood Springs Rd and onto Rich Man’s Row. My wife and I always feel a little uneasy when we have to drive through ritzy neighborhoods to find a trailhead. With all of the no parking signs, we don’t always feel that welcome looking for a place to park our little car. Some of the best trailheads are by million dollar homes, and sometimes, I can just feel the hidden gaze of Karen’s eyes burning behind the blinds watching us. Am I projecting? I don’t know, but I’m getting used to it. I’ve come to realize it’s part of hiking. My wife wanted to park at the Scotland Well Trailhead to avoid parking anxiety, but I wanted to park right here where the Park Directory said to: 11103 Callanish Park Dr. This here’s city property, and we are welcome to it. Says so right here on the direct-or-y. We parked, and did our pre-hike thing: Suited up. Prayed. Did my squats. Hi-fived, and walked.


The trailhead is nestled between two beautiful homes and descends down a rocky staircase with cedar railings down to the forest. We were greeted by a trailhead marker and heard rushing water nearby. We went straight in for it, strategically pulling back thin branches like thieves, crouching under other ones to make it just close enough to see some fast water. I looked at my wife. “There are no mosquitoes, babe. How?” She shrugged. We went back to the main trail and my wife led the way. We found a waterfall crossing and enjoyed the mist and hiss of cascades and took some photos. We carried on and found more streams to cross. We were all alone. I was taken aback by how lush it was and how spacious the woods were. I needed this. It’s easy to forget how soothing it is to listen to the purl of water when you live in Texas. We stopped several times to find hidden streams behind the treeline. I’d find a rock to stand on in the water and hold myself up with my stick, and take it all in. The roots of trees appeared to grasp for the ground around the riverbank like blind hands, covered with moss. I looked up. A canopy of sycamore trees loomed over me like California palms, high enough for dinosaurs to eat. Never have I seen such giant sycamore trees. The trunks were white and spotted with flaking bark, towering 70 feet above me with pear-green, pointed leaves. Below were the holly trees. Their leaves, almost fluorescent, shone like hard candy all around me, glowing in the light.


We came out of this section and found our first oddity. I’ve seen pictures of this before, but not in person. We walked up to it. An old crushed car from the 60s, lay abandoned and upside-down, covered with rust. It looked like maroon clay. How did it get here? And why was it dumped? Maybe while runnin’ moonshine, the driver looked back, out of the window, and ran out of road, falling off a cliff while being chased by some coppers. Who knows? There are so many stories here in Bull Creek.


We finished this section, I believe it was called the Mountain View Trail and exited at the Scotland Well trailhead. I wanted to hike some more even though I knew that meant a night-hike back in unfamiliar terrain. We checked our Gaia and opted for the Old Lampasas Trail across the street. There is a lovely view of the Hills at the beginning of the trail overlooking the homes nearby. Hiking around the hill, we noticed we were being followed by a bouncy, yellow butterfly. My wife stopped to take a video, and it seemed to dance in circles right by us with great pageantry. These are the moments you hope for. Short-lived displays of beauty and fragility.


After another mile or so on the trail, we turned around. It was 8:30 and we pulled out the flashlight. We crossed the street and plunged back into Scotland Well. I found a flower on the side of the trail beginning to bloom and looked up the name. It’s called a ‘Blazing Star.’ It soon became dark, and the frogs came out hopping from both sides of the trail criss-crossing like streams of water at a splash pad. And all sizes, too. Some were no bigger than toes and some were full grown bulls. We captured a nice slow-mo of one on the hop.


And then the lightning bugs came out. They streak much faster here than anywhere I’ve ever been. They blaze and disappear like lit cigarette butts flicked out of cars on the highway, the orange cherry spiraling with ash.

I’m always a little skittish when it’s pitch black in the forest. I was walking by a large tree and heard the most abrupt launch, a violent flapping of wings just above me right as a firefly flashed its orange spark directly in front of my face. I lost my breath. It felt like I was staring into the barrel of a gun that just went off. Panting, I looked around. It was pitch dark. The frogs croaked, and I laughed.


to be continued…




*References

Travis County Historical Commission Blog, Bull Creek: Historical Overview by Richard Denney










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