February 14, 2005

Austin Notes: Spring Is Here

Forget Valentine’s Day. Forget Groundhog Day. Mid–February is the traditional unofficial beginning of spring in these parts. We’ve endured almost a month of gray skies, our annual total of eleven hours of subfreezing temperatures, our chance to wear wool sweaters, leather jackets, and corduroy pants. Now it’s time for a remission of our dues.

Saturday we had a soft fragrant rain and Sunday was perfection, breezing in the seventies. (I’m sitting on the lawn in bare feet as I type this.) We drove to the Bull Creek Preserve to commune with the restorative forces of nature. One un–Texan lapse in hospitality greeted us at the parking lot—a signed declaring it a crime–free zone patrolled by undercover police who would arrest us and make our names public for any violation—justified by puddles of crushed blue auto glass on the ground.

The trail followed the top of a flat cliff above Bull Creek. The creek was rushing loud with winter rain, and three people stood in the top of the waterfall with their pants rolled up. At the bottom, kids were wading and dogs—invariably black Labradors—were splashing. Lots of happy yapping, but no audio speakers, no cursing, no quarrels. We crossed a path of steppingstones in the shallows. My foot slipped and got soaked through the sock, but it was dry again in half an hour.

We climbed the trail into the gated community of the golden–cheeked warbler—two weeks before nesting season so none of the birds were actually there, but the tradeoff was that no permit was required. “Hike only in groups of three or less,” said a sign on the warblers’ behalf. Daring arrest, our family of four opened the fence and walked in.

Uphill into the domain of river–carved limestone ledges, pebbly tan soil, dried clump grass, mountain laurel, juniper cedar. “Be Alert for Feral Hogs,” a sign warned, in the middle of a city of almost 700,000—and we were nowhere near the football stadium!

Somewhere the first bluebonnets are popping up. In a couple of weeks they’ll be carpeting the roadsides. Time to think about using the air conditioner!