My wife had the pick of the litter today. She was going to pick the hike, and I, on the other hand, was going to try and finish that hike with a swollen knee that felt like a head of cabbage. I traipsed around the house like a trash-heap-robot, but we had to get in some miles to prepare for Big Bend, the end of this month. She picked a section we’d yet to explore on the West Side of the Greenbelt and Highway 1 in Austin. Perhaps my flesh and bones will calm down, I thought, and shrink back to normal like Dr. Banner from the Incredible Hulk.
We made it to the neighborhood street where the trailhead starts, and I immediately felt out of place. Words like “Renaissance,” “Woods of So-and-So,” “Scottish Cove Lane,” and “Nose-in-the-Air Cul-de-Sac,” had me uneasy. We parked by a navy Maserati, and noticed something out of the ordinary. On a nearby porch, a resident had ziptied a stuffed bobcat, by the feet, in wild, intimidating pose, to the top of the balustrade. Was he trying to scare off rabid squirrels or zombie coyotes? Or hikers, parked in run-down cars by his manicured lawn? Anyways, this was one for the books. You forget you live in Austin, until you’re quickly reminded. The street was lined with cars not unlike a child who lines up his HotWheels car collection bumper to bumper for everyone to see. We weren’t too hip on crowds, but with like any hike, the further you venture out, the crowds just ebb away. We made it to the top of the hill and saw all manner of hikers, funneling in and out like an ant mound.
When I looked down, I quickly realized that I was possibly standing at the Hill of Life, and with a bum knee. Of all the hikes she could have selected. Here I was, Mr. Glass from the movie, “Unbreakable,” staring down a caliche staircase, in a purple trench coat, listening to my imaginary mother warning me NOT to go down with my cabbage patch knee. Screw it. We started the hike down, and of all things, I recognized a former contestant of the TV show Survivor and ‘Super Flashlight’ infomercials, hiking up the trail. Hollywood smile. We made our way down and passed by some very nice youngbloods, out of breath, basking in the sun, saving their words and sharing their smiles to us as we went down.
We made it down into the valley and were surprised by the great wall: grey, rock cliffs by the creek, and chose to hike north up the trail. As we set off, I noticed an additional quiet present with me, which makes every parent uncomfortable. My son was out of town and we missed him being with us.
We made it to one of the falls, and peered upon quite the pastoral setting, at least for Austin. Yorkies rolling around in the dirt, their owners talking to them like children, other dogs playfully splashing the water with their paws, and loners smoking joints on the banks, as the cascades ran down like thin, white beards coming out of the rocks.
We carried on ahead, and beheld the first of great, dramatic trees bent away from the trail. It was as if their dark boughs were caught fleeing, in attempted escape, held down by their roots. These were no small trees. They were like trees dreamed up for Bavarian fables. Rumpelstiltskin could hide behind one of these. Trees by which Hansel and Gretel, or fairy-tale fawns would suddenly find themselves lost, at the beginning of a story.
We continued ahead and knew we were now in the woods. Bushes of red berries, boulders buried in skids like meteors, and a grassy path before us that beckoned us forth. We were now in the squirrelly bits, with scraggy rocks to climb, and dead trees blocking the trail.
We came to a scenic overlook of the valley. How could all of this be so hidden? Golden-hour-sun washing over the cliffs with its haze. We entered a small clearing and came upon a large, square dug-out hole with a stone in front of it.
At the fork in the trail, we took a left and went up a hill. My wife said we should take a selfie, so we posed, and as I set up the camera, she opened her eyes and gasped. I was thinking she saw some great, winged creature bearing down on us. No, it was just a treehouse, hidden away, on this hilltop in the greenbelt. After selfie-time, we hiked down what appeared to be the end of the trail. As we looked down into a drainage basin, my wife skidded down on one heel for three feet and landed on her bum. Her hands were together like a baby sitting on the floor clapping. Oops! I helped her up, and I climbed down a little ravine and took our last photo of the creek, and we headed back. Daylight was fading.
We headed back to the Hill of Life but kept going South to hit our mileage goal. There was no longer anyone on the trail, nor at the waterfalls, and we could begin to hear the bats in trees chirping, singing sonar songs for their prey. I imagined these ultrasounds going through my knee, relieving the pressure and soreness from all of the fluid inside.
My wife observed the silhouette of a large owl across the river on a leafless treetop, and we headed back to the Hill of Life. We had our headlamps at full-beam, like coal miners coming out of a shaft, heading home.
I came across a set of cairns half-way up. I couldn’t help but thinking it looked like a miniature model of the Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon. We carried on and made it to the top. Two residents on a night stroll were blinded by my headlight, and acted overly offended by the light. I couldn’t help but think that I was no longer in my domain. No matter. We were leaving.
Every car on the street was gone.
I attempted to stretch what muscles of mine were willing to cooperate, and we hopped in the car. My wife fixed her headband, turning her head side-to-side in the mirror, both hands behind her head. She put on her lip gloss, and we were off. “Don’t You Want Me” by the Human League played, and we swerved our little car along the big curves of Slaughter Lane down to South Austin, hand in hand. —