SKETCHES FROM AN ICY WALK IN SOUTH AUSTIN
So much for a forest bath today. Blustery winds and a sputtering, cold rain felt like ice-gleeks in the face from someone spitting when they talk. Marching in place, I tested out my snow boots and set off for my walk, soothed by the smush and rubbery crunch of footsteps over new frost.
On dreary days like this, I have to ask myself, “Do I want to pull a Ted Cruz in February and get out of Dodge, or do I want to go outside, reaching out my finger to touch new life like E.T.? Well, I decided I was going to reach out and touch this new frozen world like it was first contact. Just look at the ice and frost and the white snow! My son was playing with icicles like xylophones that hung from the street signs and mailboxes, breaking them and snapping them off. Sounded like the cracks of old-time ice trays with the cubes popping out.
“You alright?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Thanks for coming out with me, son.”
He laughed. “Dad, I’ve seen snow like three times in my life. I wanted to come.”
“Ok, let’s go this way and see what we can find.”
I had my cup of coffee and my hiking stick. I was wearing motorcycle gloves that wrapped around my forearms with velcro straps. Made me feel like an English knight. And true, I was bundled up, but my face still burned from the gusts of cold wind that sanded down my skin. I had to remind myself. I’m not out here for comfort. I was out here in spite of it, to see what I could find.
And what I’ve found, walking in bad weather, is that other things pop out. Oddities. And they’re just as interesting. It’s almost like trees and the plants have hidden themselves now that all of their green is gone. You find dead things and things that don’t belong, odd artifacts peppered along your walk. We found earthworms crawling in frigid pools of water on the sidewalk. What brought them out? Oh, how they struggled and squirmed to barely move. We came across a snail frozen in a shard of ice, a weary slug who slogged for the last time. I wondered. When the snail knew it was hopeless, did it crawl back into its shell to die? We looked up. Two fire trucks on a call sped past us with flashing lights.
We were still getting fits of rain and it was freezing cold, but I decided to do the full loop. And on my walk, a strange thing happened. It was like the spirit of Ole Norman Rockwell came upon me, and I was mesmerized by all of the iced-over mailboxes, of all things. A Chicano mesmerized by Americana? Yeah, I can’t explain it. They were just beautiful to me today. They were like frozen statues, locked in place, staring off into space. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. “Is this weird?” I asked myself. I took a few pictures of the ones that captivated me the most.
We headed west on a long street and no longer had any protection from the wind, and it hurt. My son was fine but I was stepping into the gusts like a stock broker in the Windy City running for the revolving door of a high-rise.
We hiked up the steep hill of a street and noticed a keychain of an anime figurine hanging from a barren tree and reached out to grab it like, you guessed it, E.T. Now my boy had an odd souvenir from our chilly walk. At the top of the hill, we came across a fallen branch that had broken off its bough, unable to bear the weight of the ice. The lichens on its bark looked like the rust on the brass of a tall ship out at sea. And we walked right under the tree as if no other branches could do the same thing and fall, and hit us on the head.
Further down the street, I saw a blue Uno card lying in the street. I smiled at my discovery. Yet again, another oddity. We just might have a game planned for tonight. I looked up. I felt a drop in temperature and checked the weather on my phone.
“We need to pick up the pace, son. It’s 29 degrees.” He was still hunting down icicles strumming them down like frozen wind chimes.
The boy was spellbound, crazed to break ice off of every living thing.
“Let’s go!” I yelled.
“Coming,” he sang, his cheeks and nose now strawberry red.
We ran into a lady in Uggs wearing a fruity-loop scarf walking her dog. She stopped to talk. “Hi! Enjoying the weather?” she asked as she bounced.
“Yeah, trying to get a walk in before the long freeze tonight. We’ll be holed up, so I wanted to make sure we got out.”
“Yeah. I brought the dog out, too. He’s from California, so this is his first time seeing this…it’s not going well.” The dog barked at my son as he walked up. We laughed and said goodbye.
My son and I headed home. I had to pee. He was still breaking icicles off from signs, and I thought, might as well. Let him be. The raindrops were now raining ice beads, shooting down, tapping our jackets like wedding rice. At least we’re dry, I thought. I looked down to my left. The grass reminded me of popsicles in plastic and I wanted to walk on top of their frozen blades just so I could feel them crackle under my boots.
My son hurried to catch up to me and said, “Dad?”
“I want to do something today,” he said, huffing.
“Whatever you’re gonna do, I’m gonna do.”
“Yeah. Like, if you write, I’m gonna write.”
“Yeah? Ok, sounds good. Let’s do it.”
We wiped down our feet and stepped inside. My glasses fogged up and I smiled. We both looked up as my wife opened the door and came out of her room to greet us.