“Yeah, that doesn’t look right.”
It’s that familiar moment for me and my dad—the trail’s petering out. It’s happened in all kinds of mountains, and now here, at The Nature Conservancy’s Barton Creek Habitat Preserve, almost within shouting distance of a Subway franchise. But when you’re out here, you’d never know that you’re twenty minutes from downtown Austin. We’re in a green cocoon. That’s the Texas Hill Country—little treasures.
The usual drill—Dad goes back to look for the real trail; meanwhile I’m psyched to be off-trail. “Dad, be reasonable. Let’s struggle through these wall-like stands of cedars.” Or in past scenarios, “through this trackless, unending swamp / precipitous, Escher-like boulder field.”
This time, the trail really is gone. We whiplash fifty feet through the cedar limbs to Barton Creek. I look back. “Should we walk along the bank, or in the creek?”
This is the beautiful moment: “Well, which one is going to do the least damage?” Dad asks. “We don’t want to erode the bank. But any footprints we leave in the creekbed will wash out with the first rain.”
My dad always taught me to be a thoughtful participant in nature, from the time my brother and I were still in larval stages, playing in the woods behind our house. He made sure we knew to carefully tilt up the rocks we wanted to look under—otherwise we’d crush the bugs living under there. Or that if we climbed an oak tree, we shouldn’t knock any branches off; the open wound attracts the sap beetles that carry the fungal disease oak wilt.
He taught me that everybody has an effect on our natural world, even me, just a little kid. And that even me, a little kid, could—and should—do things to love and protect the woods. It wasn’t very long after I learned how to pee indoors that I learned not to pee within 300 feet of a natural water source.
We started off just wading in the creek, but it kept getting deeper until we were walking in up-to-our-necks water, with the camera held over our heads, Heart of Darkness-style. The water was perfect, and down at water-level, we got to see several species of fish, a Great Blue Heron, and a nest full of heron chicks. It was another slightly ridiculous mini-adventure in the outdoors with my dad.
“Now you know what I want for every Fathers’ Day until I’m 105,” he says. “After that, just roll me out onto the lawn. This is one of those things I’ll remember as long as I remember things.”
June 17, 2011
By Matt Vale