If you look closely, you’ll see pink granite blocks covered with sparkling flecks all around the Red Bud Isle parking lot. Square blocks arranged in a rock circle like a giant campfire ring. Big blocks of pink granite, but strangely out-of-place.
While researching a woman by the name of Hazel Keyes, a daredevil and aeronaut who flew a balloon over Lake Austin, parachuting down for a crowd watching from what is now Oyster Landing in 1898, I read about the original Austin Dam, and the disaster of 1900. The Dam was hailed as an engineering marvel that would usher the city of 15,000 into the modern age and finally power the city, attracting new businesses. But poorly made, and built, of all places, directly on top of the Balcones Fault Line, it collapsed after heavy rains and a biblical flood that destroyed countless lives, sending many of the blocks you see now tumbling onto Red Bud Isle like dice, onto what is now an island formed by the great wall of Tom Miller Dam.
I climbed onto one of the blocks and jumped from stone to stone, looking for any markings or placards. I looked but couldn’t find any, so I stepped down. Cars were circling with their windows down fighting for every parking space.
Sunday was a reunion of sorts, and also an introduction. Vanessa, unbelievably, had never been to Red Bud Isle, and my son and I were going to relive a funny story that took place here when he was 2 years old. I showed Vanessa a few trails to explore around the banks, and she showed me a school of perch floating just below the surface, perfectly still, looking at us as well, like fish being ogled in a classroom aquarium.
I could tell my son was quickly losing interest for the outdoors, so I told him to go find the place where he had his accident.
When I caught up to him, I asked him, “You think this is it?”
I walked up to the stairs leading down to the water.
We didn’t even discuss it. It wasn’t a big deal, really, just every parent’s nightmare. Twelve years ago, I met him and his mother at Red Bud Isle to walk around and pick him up for the week. After taking a few pictures with him, I walked with him to the staircase down by the water.
I looked up for one second…
With a toddler, a parent becomes fluent with degrees of silence. I knew what quiet was. But I also knew what ‘oh-no’ quiet was. And that’s exactly what I heard. A quiet that only comes from a child’s sudden absence…I tell you, there was no splash. No bubbles. It was as if a mermaid slipped out of the water and abducted my son to take him to Atlantis with the stealth of a slick-skinned fish.
All I could see was his shirt waving beneath the water, flowing like a sunken flag. And still, no bubbles. Not even a ripple. I had just witnessed an immaculate submersion. In boots and jeans I stepped into the water with a splash and snatched him up like a puppy by the collar, closely inspecting his facial expressions for anything I needed to worry about.
No coughing. No sneezing. He wasn’t even blinking. His eyes were alive and full of life. He just looked like he had been temporarily pulled out of orbit. My little satellite. Floating underwater, tumbling, just like a pink block of granite, my toddler was drifting, yet amazed, until he was snatched up, dripping wet, by a familiar presence, knocked out of orbit, but always safe.
We took his shirt and shorts off and his pamper expanded like a bag of marshmallows and all I could do was laugh. My favorite picture of my son and I is from that day.
After wandering for a couple of miles, we decided on some refreshments and headed to Oyster Landing. Found a table with a tiki umbrella and we people-watched from the other side of the dam. I always think about Hazel Keyes when I’m by the dam, and Ben Hur, the great sidewheel steamship that docked here where Hula Hut now stands. That three-story steamer was destroyed as well by the flood on April 7, 1900.
Vanessa watched the large, gun-metal gray koi circle below the deck.
I reminded Vanessa that I had promised two local hikers I met at Zilker Preserve last month that I would go and see MUNY, the historic golf course which is also one of Austin’s largest green spaces, and home to hundreds of heritage oaks. It was right on Enfield Dr., just a block away, so that settled it. We paid our tab and left.
We found the entrance and stopped to read the signs. I read the historical marker and saw Emma Long’s name again, and we drove right in, down a regal row of Austin Oaks glowing in the evening sunlight.
We parked and I realized I had no idea how we could hike the course. I don’t do sidewalks. We threw around the frisbee for a bit, and I suggested going in to check out the shop.
Then I had an idea. I pulled the trigger. I asked the front desk if we could grab two carts and cruise the course. “Keys are in the cart,” the young man said.
We cruised all 18. The beauty of the old Breckenridge tract at sunset is unsurpassed. We practically had the place to ourselves. My son drove out in front of us, his first time driving a cart alone, all by himself, once again fighting my orbit, his parents once again giving chase.