Travis County Almanac
After a long hot summer, September marks the time for the clouds to unleash their madness and replenish the environment with water. Gone are the days spent in the sweltering heat blinded by the blistering sun, lemonade stands, itsy bitsy bikinis, and an endless supply of sunscreen. The clouds release water with enough force to assume they are angry and seeking revenge. This weather transformation from sunny and peaceful to a terrifying display of wind and rain can happen only in an instant. I was lucky enough to experience this sheer force of nature at Zilker Park one fine (or so I thought) Saturday afternoon:
I had just finished my Saturday morning practice after concluding my second week of school, and, considering it was a beautiful day, thought it would be a good idea to explore Austin. I headed down South Congress on my bike with a group of friends, embracing the warm air and light breeze propelling me towards downtown. Our plan was to go to Zilker Park, pass the soccer ball around, then head across the street to Lake Austin and go paddle boarding.
The trip to Zilker, about 3 miles long, is beautiful if you ride along the river on the gravel road. The number of people along the trail was sparse during the time we went, giving us more time to appreciate the canopy of trees surrounding the trail and the soft mumble of waves coming from the lake. We left around 2:00, approximating we would get to Zilker around 2:30 or so and have enough time to hang out and go paddle boarding before sunset. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and it was all in all a beautiful day to be outside.
When we got to Zilker, there were people everywhere. There was not a vacant sand volleyball court and people swarmed the areas surrounding them. Dogs ran wild, chasing Frisbees and tennis balls before retreating excitedly back to their owners. Study groups, sunbathers, and kite flyers all shared the same area, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. We began to play around with the soccer ball with the intent to start a pick up game. We were playing a mere 15 minutes before the clouds began to change.
The sun slowly dipped beneath the looming onset of gray clouds and the slight breeze we felt soon became a brisk wind. Storm clouds enveloped the blue sky, making the entire city become a massive gray blob. Rain began to trickle down, first in small, pea size droplets, before progressing to an angry repetition of huge pellets. People stood and stared with wonder, some choosing to leave, some choosing to stay and wait it out. We stayed with the few other brave souls, all of us thinking the rain would pass and it would be sunny again. But, in a matter of seconds, wind picked up to the point where it almost knocked you off your feet. Our bikes, propped up against rocks or with kickstands, flew to the ground, their wheels spinning incessantly. The powerful rain droplets were now buckets of water. In a matter of minutes we were soaking wet and in fear of being swept away with the powerful wind.
It was unlike any weather I had ever experienced, and quite frankly none of us knew exactly how to react. At first it was mere frustration, how were we supposed to go paddle boarding in rainy weather? As the wind and rain became stronger, our mere agitation became wonder, how did this happen transformation happen so quickly. When the rain became buckets and the wind too powerful to withstand, came the fear. Because none of us drove, our only means for transportation were the eight bikes scattered across the field, tires still spinning. We had no choice but to wait it out.
Once we were able to gather our senses, the mood, although still fearful, became comical. We embraced the weather and ran about, laughing at the situation we were in. It was unbelievable, being able to experience such an environmental shock first hand. Now that we had the whole field to ourselves, we pranced across the park, stripping down to our bathing suits and running aimlessly. It was liberating to feel in such cohesion with nature.
Once the excitement we felt fleeted, we huddled under the giant rock in the middle of the park, now freezing cold with nothing dry to wear. We used the handlebars of the bike rack as a drying rack, although that idea failed miserably and nothing dried. The rain began to die down and we were all exhausted. We wanted nothing more than warm clothes and a dry environment. We were covered in grass and brown mud stained our wet feet. From under the rock, you could see one half of the park, including the volleyball courts and even a few tall buildings downtown if you squinted. The sand volleyball courts were coated with a thin layer of water and large puddles formed all across the rest of the park. Finally, as the rain started to let up, the gray clouds slowly began to disappear. As soon as the rain finally stopped, we picked up our bikes and headed back to campus. By the time we were back at Congress, the sun was shining again. The sun just barely peaked over the clouds and the smell of rain still hung in the air. There were very few birds in the air but they all began to chirp, squirrels ran wild, and the whole world came to life again. It was as though the hurricane we had just experienced never occurred.
Experiencing such an intense weather transformation made me appreciate how powerful nature is. Within the blink of an eye, weather can change drastically. Zilker Park is a unique area of Austin because of its simplicity and ability to evoke peacefulness despite its location near downtown. Although it is a recreational par, one can still find solace in its serenity. In a Travis County Almanac, Aldo Leopold implies that recreation can lead to the downfall of a peaceful environment. He states that the “greater the exodus, the smaller the per-capita ration of peace, solitude, wildlife, and scenery, and the longer the migration to reach them” (Leopold 165). Although this is normally true, Zilker Park is an exception. Located in a large city, Zilker Park is a recreational center that offers peace, solitude, wildlife, and scenery.
I have been back to Zilker a couple times following this incident, but for the next two or three weeks, the entire park will not be its usual serenity. Austin City Limits has consumed the field and will not relinquish it until midway through October. It will be interesting to observe how the landscape will change and what environmental effects the concert will have on the park.