The world of 2016 is a place of pace beyond comparison. It is sometimes as if—through the devices that are now second nature to us—we have all become Wall Street traders of a sort, trafficking in instant information constantly. However, it is still possible to find myself in the original nature, which sometimes I come across unexpectedly within a modern metropolis. In the Capital of Texas, the cars and the rate of urban development can be staggering, but there are many places to experience the city’s commitment to green spaces and beautiful views. My wife recently took me to Mt. Bonnell for a view of the Colorado River from Austin’s highest point. Ironically enough, the technology at which I look askance allows me to share some of the sights without sole reliance on words.
After climbing the long stone steps and seeing the engraved rock on the star, visitors can see the view of Lake Austin from rocky trails that incline along the “mountain.”
Elsewhere in the city, working its way in a meandering fashion toward the larger tributary, the Shoal Creek abides, very easy to miss completely if one isn’t exploring and open to such an understated and quiet flow of water coursing within the city.
If you choose to walk along the water south toward Ladybird Lake, the terrain is broken and has the feeling of a forgotten place—although I am certain that it won’t stay just this way forever…
The downtown city buildings loom over the water near 6th Street as the creek bends.
Watching for movement below the surface in the parts of the creek that are knee-deep, I occasionally see tiny fish zipping about or a turtle in its habitat, and it’s clear that the little creatures who live here are also being watchful in return.
Walking northward and tracing toward the source of the flow, the path winds between the water on one side and the streets on the other. Signposts may provide a sense of direction and possibly hearken to an older time when maps and guides were not virtual but instead physical, showing the smudges and marks of wear.
Past the football field at House Park and just beyond 12th St., one can cross from Lamar Boulevard over the creek bank on the foot bridge to Pease Park, one of the city’s best places to experience the outdoors.
Pease Park and it’s accompanying green belts along the creek bring us into the realm of an older Austin and its time as a town once named Waterloo in the first half of the 1800s. According to local sources, in the 1840s a Mexican invasion took place at one point, and a number of skirmishes occurred between European settlers and Native Americans. I have read that Robert E. Lee and soldiers under his command once camped along Shoal Creek, and apparently during Reconstruction, General George Custer and his men were stationed here as well. In 1875, Governor E. M. Pease and his wife conferred the land of Pease Park to the citizens of Austin.
This park is the site of an Austin tradition: Eeyore’s birthday party. The famously oft-forgotten cumpleaños of Winnie the Pooh’s sad donkey friend are celebrated with great cheer in the park annually. The protectors of the park certainly deserve their due for contributing to and maintaining its natural beauty.
Beneath the canopy of trees I have more than once thought of my family in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, California, and in Northern Ireland and here in Texas as well as those whose location can no longer be named.
At times, walking along the creek can provide the illusion of being far away from civilization while in reality being firmly within the city limits.
Eventually, the heat of Central Texas turns the grass to a dry, golden color as the summer progresses…
The path winds on, and as it does, I notice that summer is beginning to fade. The colors of fall have been summoned by time and the gradually descending temperatures.
Before returning on the path, I wish you great luck in finding the places that strike just the right balance of a natural setting and a nurturing experience. May the bridges you cross and the connections you make lead to valuable and welcoming places.
Words and photos by C.S.