“Perhaps every youth needs an occasional wilderness trip, in order to learn the meaning of this particular freedom.”
-Aldo Leopold, Sketches Here and There
I am not from Austin. Heck, I’m not even from Texas. I didn’t know where I would begin in focussing my blog, so I had to do a little research before I could begin my work. As I was searching for some possible places I would like to visit, I came across McKinney Falls State Park. As I looked at different articles and websites describing the park, I knew that this was the place I would like to visit. It had beautiful scenery, and a lot of different areas to explore. It seemed fairly secluded so I knew I would be able to really focus on the environment and be alone with my thoughts.
I told my roommate where I was thinking of going and she asked me if I wanted her to come with me. I told her that it wasn’t necessary, that I wanted to go alone and just explore for myself. She told me that she wanted me to text her and send her pictures the whole time I was out there. I told her I would and that was the end of the discussion. I didn’t think anymore of the request, it was completely normal.
As I drove out there for the first time, I was greeted by a kind woman park ranger who gave me advice on where I should go first. I went down to the lower falls area and hiked out into the sunlight. The environment changed drastically in only a quarter mile, going from light foliage to barren rock in an extremely short trip. I proceeded to explore the rocks for a little while, looking at little ecosystems in the individual puddles where the river had once run. I stood on top of the falls and looked over into the lagoon, where I could see fish and turtles just under the surface. I also went to the edge of the rocks and forest to where lagoons had formed, making little habitats for fish, birds, dragonflies and a variety of fauna. From that point I saw the entry to the Homestead Trail, and being free of obligation, I decided to follow it.
This trail went through heavy density trees for a good quarter mile before letting out on a homestead. The building was made of cinderblock and had burned down long ago and was not rebuilt for who knows what reason. There was a trail less traveled that went around the fence of the homestead, so I decided to do some exploring. When I did, I noticed different kinds of blooming plants out among the old growth. Upon further inspection, I realized there were squash growing out in the forest from crops long left behind. I proceeded to follow more trail through an open path, observing the bees and beetles that would fly around my legs every time I took a step.
After I was done exploring this area, I decided to return and get a closer look at the lagoon area. I walked back out onto the dry riverbed and looked for a way to descend. It suddenly became apparent that I was going to have to go off-trail, but I didn’t mind. I was exploring. I found a makeshift trail down to the lagoon and emerged on a rocky beach. I saw some lizards sunbathing and I got to see the fish and turtles from a closer point of view. I went to the area that the water was leaving from and saw a huge variety of plants. But that wasn’t even the coolest part. From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something I had seen earlier. As I approached, I realized it was the squash from up near the homestead, but from this proximity, I could tell that they weren’t just squash, they were pumpkins! I thought to myself how cool nature was, that something someone planted years ago just for a crop could become a food for animals and be carried downstream and transfer itself to new locations and thrive, with its planter long gone.
As I left, I thought about how great that adventure had been, how happy I was that I had done it by myself. When I got home, I called my parents and told them about my great journey. Not to my surprise, their reactions were not what I was hoping for. Instead of “How was it?” or “What did you see?” I received on onslaught of: “Who went with you?” “Did anyone know where you were?” “Were you keeping in constant contact with anyone?” “Were there a lot of people on the trails?”
“That was really foolish of you.”
Lucky for me, I was able to give a rebuttal to their protests, saying, “You both know that I’ve wanted to be a park ranger since I was twelve. My graduation is less than three years from now. I will be in the same situation there as I was this afternoon, only there I won’t have any cell service.” This stumbled them enough to pacify their arguments, but this gave me insight into seeing that being a woman and a scientist is going to be hard work. There are going to be stigmas that I will have to disregard and some that I will be forced to acknowledge. My point is, by going on this trip free to make my own mistakes, I was not revered like the young men that Leopold encountered. I was scolded. That being said, I still felt the same freedom that the young men were introduced to, and if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change what I did. I would still go for the sake of enjoying the freedom to make mistakes, even if that might seem foolish.