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Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

Morning at McKinney Roughs

Hiking Ridge and Woodland trails
I can hear
the lightest breeze
winding through the leaves of trees

Wildflowers at McKinney Roughs

The snap of twigs
that quietly fall and land
upon the brushy ground

Tree at at McKinney Roughs

I can hear the distant calls of birds
the hum of insects close
the buzz and click
of wing-ed things
nearby

Wildflowers at McKinney Roughs

I can hear nature
on the move
and the absence
of Man.

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Walking with Dogs

Most of the folks around here celebrate Cinco de Mayo on May 5th; I celebrate my dear friend Petri Blue on this day. We were together 11 1/2 years, and six years ago today, she gave up the ghost.  Petri Blue

I covered a lot of terrain with that dog, as she was definitely the outdoorsy type. When we moved to Austin, we first got to know this town and surrounding areas by way of the greenbelts and trails: Bartholomew Park, Barton Springs Greenbelt, Wilderness Park and Zilker Park, Pease Park, Reimer’s Ranch, Bull Creek. I always felt safe exploring the woods with just her, assuming that her presence would deter any threats we might encounter (this was probably misplaced confidence – Petri never hurt a fly (and to me, never really looked remotely capable of such a thing), but all those folks back in Athens who used to yell “look at that big black dog!” and scream or shy away, and ask “does it bite?” made me think she was at least intimidating to unknowing strangers).

Today, I took my current furry companions (~1/6 and ~1/8 Petri-size) to Bull Creek, on a remembrance hike. Griffin & Busy, they are good sports, and provide an effective counterpoint to remembering a dog very different from them.

Pete, her prime directive was fetching (a thoroughly programmed labrador retriever). A ball, a stick, a broken old frisbee she found in the brush, whatever. She didn’t care about other dogs (unless they were going for her ball or stick), and might notice another person if they looked like they could potentially throw something. I let her off leash to run, because she never went far, and came back on command. She stayed on the move constantly, hunting up throwable items from the underbrush and only stopping to drop said item in the middle of the trail if/when she found something.

Griffin & Busy are all about territory. Sniffing, marking, barking their bloody little heads off when another dog comes by. Can’t let these two off leash no way no how – they need wranglin’! I try to distract them with treats from my pocket, and keep a good eye out ahead on the trail so I can be prepared for any close encounters.
As long as no one else is around, its a pretty peaceful time. I did feel a little vulnerable on the trail today, as I’m not as confident these dogs could protect me from harm, even though Griffin’s shriek is ear-piercing and frightening in its own right. These two have made me appreciate how amazingly easy Petri was to be with.

Needless to say, time and circumstances have kept me from walking/hiking with these dogs as much as I did with Petri. She required it, and made it easy, so we went out 3-4 times a week. I’m lucky to get these two weensies out beyond our neighborhood once a week.

It is so therapeutic out there, on the trail. I noticed on my walk today that my mind slowed down, and thoughts came at an comfortable, familiar pace, set by the rhythm of my footsteps, heartbeat, breath. That internal calmness is rare in me these days, as I’m usually fretting over money, my house, my job, my lack of creative activity, yadda yadda. Walking with dogs brings me solidly into the present. That’s how they roll, too, not regretting or worrying about an unknown future, but wholeheartedly in the present. Note to self.

As I pondered these canine-inspired wisdoms, Jennie the dog from Higglety-Pigglety-Pop came to mind. The main character in my favorite children’s book, Jennie thought there must be more to life, and wandered out to find it, without much of a plan (but following her instincts), and losing everything she had packed along the way. Over the course of her journey, she did acquire that elusive thing that would satisfy her yearning for something more: experience. Once she had that, everything else fell into place, and she lived happily ever after.

Maybe I should follow the dogs, and just trust that my journey is a good one, instead of trying to wrangle and pursue some pre-defined measure of success. Maybe the best path to a well-lived life is learning to live in the present.

-Mel

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tree huggin’

I love Austin’s green spaces and places.  When I first moved here, I hiked several times a week with my best pal Petri Blue.  I remember thinking how fantastic this was, to have wild places within the city limits, that the people here didn’t let the urbanscape obliterate the natural beauty.  I remember wondering why these Texas woods smelled like hamsters, and how in the world I could so easily have a private walkabout away from the hustle and bustle of town without having to make a road trip.  I’ve since  learned about the overgrowth of Ash Junipers in the local landscape, commonly called “Cedars” and I think they smell like the cedar shavings used in hamster bedding – mystery solved.

This city has grown a LOT in the 15 years I’ve been here, but it still cherishes its watering holes and greenbelts.  Amo & I went for a long and lovely hike on part of the Barton Creek Greenbelt this past weekend, and among all those cedar were some treasures:  grand old oaks, sycamores, berry-bedecked holly, creeping vines, ruins, and a gushing-rushing creek (rare in this neck-o-the-woods) .  I forgot my camera, but Amo’s phone worked fine in a pinch.

We wandered off our main trail (aptly named the Hill of Life) on a whim, and found ourselves on an adventure, destination unknown – a controlled sense of being lost can be invigorating!

We found  a groovy tree with a needle-eye hole in one of its branches, and the spikiest, scariest greenbriar vines we’ve ever seen.  We found remnants of an old tree fort and rock wall.  We found other awesome things we can’t write about here because we want to surprise our friends on our next outing.  Take a gander:

I spent soooo much time as a kid wandering around in the woods alone, imagining fairies and elves and indians and such.  I’m so glad Austin has allowed me to keep the hobby as an adult, giving me plenty of stomping grounds to wander and find the hidden and unexpected things, spaces to let my imagination run wild.

Amo summed things up nicely when chatting with an acquaintance we met on the trail out (it is a small world after all):

My walking stick?  Never leave home without it.  I like to poke things.

-Mel

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