Sunday, November 15, 2009

- Urban Impression: Austin

Even though I’ve always said that I wouldn’t want to live in a city, Don and I agreed to spend the week at Meg and Paul’s condo in south Austin while they soak up some sun on the Mexican coast. They think we’re here to take care of Katie, their Jack Russell Terrier whose recent brush with glaucoma left her with one eye and a perpetually saucy wink. But the truth is we’re having a blast living the vida urbana, if only for a little while.

Yesterday we headed to the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, one of several locavore haunts in Austin. Fresh arugula, cucumber, tomatoes, and onions made their way into my mesh bag, while we made note of the turnips, pecans, and sweet potatoes that we’ll return for next week in anticipation of Thanksgiving. While there, we sampled some maple-flavored “Dad’s Granola,” which was good, but not better than our Garrison Trail granola blend.  We really should go into the Wholey Granoley biz one of these days. And I actually managed to avoid the kettle corn stand, although hunger pangs ultimately drove us to stop at Chuy’s (pronounced chewies) for lunch … a good thing, as it resulted in a mental note to add grilled corn to my tortilla soup recipe.

Wanting to sample the joys of urban exercise, we headed to Zilker Park, which has recovered from last month’s ACL mud bath, the Dillo Dirt now back under the turf where it belongs. As we drove into the park, a lone guitarist stood far out in the middle of a grassy field, playing to the sun. We picked a parking lot close to Lady Bird Lake and stepped out to join the flow of humanity that was walking, running, and riding by.

Austin has an abundance of hiking trails that appear to be in constant use by a staggering number of people. Averaging about ten feet across, we found the Zilker Park trails to be simple, hard-packed earth with the occasional paved section. Slower walkers-and-talkers stayed to the right, the better to be passed on the left by power walkers, joggers, runners, and cyclists. This was people watching at its finest, with every age, color, and body-type imaginable, some more amply represented than others.

There were parents pushing jogging strollers occupied by children who mostly looked perplexed, pregnant moms-to-be taking their soon-to-be newborns for a virtual walk, rock-hard running fanatics gliding effortlessly by, and less-fit wannabes trudging on with expressions of grim determination. Many were scantily attired and/or shirtless, revealing flesh moving in ways most strange. Many more were branded, some with tattoos, others with t-shirts. Burnt orange longhorns held sway, although a Duke blue devil tee did make a surprise appearance. At one point, three women strolled by in skirts, clutching handbags and looking totally incongruous. And if the constant stream of cyclists flew by too quickly to make any impression, the slow, deliberate passage of the halt and the lame imbued them with a touching aura of grace.

Then there were the dogs, every bit as diverse as their owners, from a black teacup poodle to a show quality St. Bernard. A few were muzzled and all were leashed as they scurried, limped, and trotted along, some making their own sartorial statements --a black chow with a yellow Cub Scout neckerchief, a tongue-lolling German shepherd with a peace sign bandana-- and a surprising number sporting bags of poo dangling from their leashes.

Indeed the trails were remarkably clean, with virtually no waste to step over; the only litter a soft shoulder of fallen leaves that cushioned our steps while the overhanging branches sheltered us from the strong sun. Water fountains and trash barrels made discrete appearances at regular intervals, as did benches placed at strategic overlooks, the better to watch the kayaks, canoes, and rowing shells that plied the waters below. And in one spot where the trail dropped down to the water’s edge, families and ducks concentrated on the age-old delight of feeding and being fed.

Returning to Zilker this morning, the trail was every bit as fascinating. I avoided the previous day’s digital edema by grabbing two small, flat stones at the outset of our walk, keeping my fingers curled around the cool limestone cradled in each palm. And one fleeting hour later, reluctantly exiting from the stream of humanity, I spotted a tow-headed tot riding high on his father’s shoulders. Our eyes locked, and as we passed our heads turned to hold the gaze, both of us grinning from ear to ear.

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