Wednesday, September 22, 2010


September first was a humid day to be outside, especially in downtown Austin--there isn’t much airflow around Interstate thirty-five. Near Fourth Street I found a pair of bridges crossing Waller Creek, or more accurately the large crevasse that seems to have been carved by the small trickle of water beneath them. The bridges are divided by material and motor. Concrete for bicycles, rocks and steel for the train. Tar and rock for cars. And finally wooden planks for pedestrians. I walked across the street and jumped over the railing and found a dirt path leading to a patch of shade and broken concrete. Plastic bits of straws, cups, Doritos bags, and other unidentifiable bits of trash intermingled with the dried leaves on the ground. There is a definite crunching noise with each step I took as I tried to reach the edge of the steep bank along side the crevasse. Tiny particles of dirt and leaves found their way into my sandals, which only increased my unease about this place. There are a million reasons why Waller Creek is not a pleasant vacation from my usual class time.

Large chunks of broken concrete are littered across the bank, as if perhaps there used to be a sidewalk or a manmade bank. To my left there was a chain link fence set up perpendicular to the creek. The fence is fighting to remain upright against the force of a bright green vine with heart shaped leaves. On the creek side, it has been almost completely defeated by the vine. Where the fence is still upright thee is a small rectangular cutout about four and a half feet tall. The cutout must be a frequent visitor’s entrance to the creek; perhaps a homeless person uses it to access the water in the creek for a shower or a swim. I could see evidence of encampments from where I was perched. A blanket depresses tall grass in what must have been a resting spot for a weary soul with low standards for comfort.

Bugs also inhabited the area. I have seen small blue dragonflies, tiny black ants, and pale yellow butterflies as well as some strange water dwelling creatures that skim the surface of the water a few feet below where I was perched. I was probably 10 feet from the murky brown water but I could still smell its stench. The smell was similar to rotting vegetables: musky, moldy, it even smelled warm. Protrusions from unknown sources broke the surface of the water; covered in algae they are unidentifiable. Could have been trash; maybe it was branches. It was all the same to the black and green speckled turtle I saw swimming among the muck. He bobbed his head a few times, presumably eating the bugs that danced on the surface. Then he was lost beneath the filth; and my eyes started to look for other signs of life in what should have been a lush and vibrant creek bed.

I watched as three cyclists zip across the bridge on Fourth Street to my right. All three were adorned with helmets and bright athletic wear. Presumably they travel this way regularly, guessing by their forward gazes and speedy pacing. None appear to notice me, or the abandoned creek below. Beneath the bridge there was a gallery of graffiti, scribbled and looped. Another cyclist. The graffiti was an unintelligible mix of letters and symbols written mostly in white spray paint on the concrete below the bridge. I could make out a strange cat-girl creature. There was a short—probably one foot tall—fence under the bridge constructed of wooden stakes sunk into the earth and a black fabric lying across it. The tiny fence seems to be failing at holding back anything but the black plastic tarp it is made out of. White belts hang from the bottom of the bridge—there went another cyclist. Across the creek is a large tree-about a foot across in diameter-broken and folded in half. Its branches reach down towards the water. There was a variety of plant life around the creek where I sat, unkempt and overgrown. More strangely, at this point I noticed that there was a bone sitting next to me. Upon closer inspection (but not too close) I realized that it was probably from someone’s food and not something that died there. I think it was a rib. People must come down to the creek fairly often, I could see dirt paths leading to the water, the grass had given up growing where frequent visitors broke it down. The construction buzzing behind the trees across the creek was more audible than the creek. Behind me there is a small parking lot. I found a solitary shoe and a random sock. Thirty-five can clearly be heard behind me. One more biker. One more shoe.

On the other side of the bridge

The earth below the bridge had been strengthened with concrete walls on either side of the creek. As the wall extended out from under the bridge, the concrete turned into a wall made up of different sized stones with tiny green sprouts peeking out from between the mortar. A square hole in the middle of the stonewall appeared to be pouring green slime onto the wall below it and down into the tall green grass growing in the creek. The back of a building hung over the banks on the opposite side of the creek. The building was plain and bare. There were no balconies or windows overlooking the water—I don’t know why anyone would want to overlook this water. Farther down the creek, I could see a wooden patio leading to a side door, but there aren’t chairs or patio furniture outside on the deck. The space beneath the building was visible from the bridge; it was full of rebar and concrete pillars holding up the wooden patio. A rocky manmade wall kept the western bank from continuing under the building. Empty branches hung vertically over the shallow creek; as if recent weather had rendered them broken and bare. The brown water was not so deep on this side; I could almost see the bottom. It was a rock bottom creek, covered in slick algae. It was so shallow that it looked like tiny waterfalls were flowing just a few inches down, over the broken concrete and boulders on the bottom. There was a metal railing between the creek and myself; the railing was about waist high on me (and I am five feet and six inches). It was hot to the touch; but vines still managed to grow around the metal bars. If I had crossed that barrier, I could walk down a precarious dirt path to the creek. But the prospect was not too enticing because the trail looked like it had been slipping downwards, eroding away. It seemed to have evaporated from beneath the trees lining the bank. The roots intertwined where the ground used to be and created a cave like space. I could hear birds crying, definitely not songbirds of any kind. Highway Thirty Five and the construction on the other side of the bridge are the most prominent noises I can hear. The sound of the trickling stream could barely be heard over the city sounds. Then the grating of gravel as I took my notebook and left.

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