Great-tailed grackle, Shoal Creek, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks
I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in…John Muir
Today is John Muir’s birthday, as well as Earth Day. Today we celebrated the 175th year of Muir’s birth, and the 43rd Earth Day. I could think of no place better to celebrate both than Shoal Creek.
The rains have greened our creek. The water that remains is clear, and the trees and shrubs along the creek are fully leaved. Even the pecans, the last to leaf out in spring, are in bloom. Mulberries are ripening, and the cedar waxwings are gorging themselves before they migrate north.
Possumhaw fruit, Pease Park, Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Pease Park Conservancy (Conservancy) volunteers have been planting native shrubs and trees throughout the park. Drought and intense public use (such as disc golf) have killed a number of mature trees in the park, and the Conservancy has been working to replace those that have died. Fortunately, the trees and shrubs that have been planted have diversified the vegetation within the park. The possumhaw, Ilex decidua, is one of the new trees that is a welcome addition.
Possumhaw blossoms, Pease Park, Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Mountain laurel beetle, Lopidae major, Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Beetles are not true bugs. Beetles are in the order Coleoptera; true bugs are in Hemiptera. Bugs often look, at least superficially, like beetles.
The Texas mountain laurel beetle is a bug in the genus Lopidea. Bugs are often difficult to identify as to species. Often the members of a genus have minimal differences in structure and color. The Lopidea all look the same: black markings on a flat body of gold, orange or red.
Eight-spotted forester, Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Little life is still life. This week I have been noticing a tiny moth along the creek. The moth is flighty, and I have struggled to take its picture. This afternoon one landed near me long enough to photograph.
This spectacular moth is the eight-spotted forester (Alypia octomaculata). The caterpillars feed on grape and Virginia creeper. I have been noticing males (I think) perched on leaves and limbs. The males are trying to attract mates. The female will lay the eggs on the leaf of a grape or creeper, and the caterpillar will feed on nothing else.
West 3rd Street Trestle,Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
New York bustles forward with the High Line. Now the discussion included Queens. Seattle began the rush to covert abandoned rail lines to parks and hiking trails. New York stepped this up a notch and coverted one of its elevated rail lines into a popular park, the High Line.
We have written often about Austin’s opportunity to convert the West 3rd Street Trestle into a High Line styled park. The trestle carries Shoal Creek, and once carried trains to and from the stations in downtown Austin. All that remains of the line is the trestle.
Shoal Creek in spring, Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Spring is colored. Winter is shades of black and gray. Green returns in spring, along with red, yellow, blue, and orange.
Cedar waxwing, Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Elms, ashes, and willows are leafing along Shoal Creek. Cedar waxwings swarm the trees to feed on buds and on loquat fruit. Windshields are stained purple with the juice from Chinese ligustrum fruits that the waxwings have eaten, digested, and deposited (all within a few minutes).
Waxwings have red waxy tips to the wing feathers, thus the name. Currently there are hundreds along the creek. In addition to fruit and buds, waxwings are often seen lifting up from tree branches to chase flying insects. Try not to stand under them.
Custer’s Oak, Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Green is a color. Green is a pasture. Green is a wash, money, grass. Green is a giant. Green is a belt. Green is a heron. Green is algae sprouting from a snapping turtle’s noggin.
Green is also an ethic, albeit one a tad hackneyed. Green works for Shoal Creek, however. We would like to turn the creek’s gray to green.
According to the US EPA,
Gray infrastructure refers to traditional practices for stormwater management and wastewater treatment, such as pipes and sewers. Green infrastructure refers to sustainable pollution reducing practices that also provide other ecosystem services.
Drake wood duck, Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
The mist has dampened the dust and lathered the trail with a thin gray paste. I see the rainbow sheen of oil washed from the pavement. I smell huisache, Texas mountain laurel, fresh leaf litter, and hydrogen sulfide.
Duckweed with styrofoam containers, Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Wood ducks celebrate the vernal rains. No longer confined to the few deep pools, they spread to where the duckweed prospers. Wood ducks prefer their duckweed as an entree; cut the styrofoam, please.
Shoal Creek presents a good face. At first glance the creek seems clean and healthy. Wood ducks are nesting. Spiderwort is blooming. The bats are back from the brief vacation in northern Mexico.
Shoal Creek at Pease Park, Austin, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks
If you angle the camera in the right direction, and crop the image to eliminate streets, traffic, power lines and poles, office buildings, condos, and the clutter that comes with urban life, Shoal Creek looks wild. Within the creek channel I often pretend that the world above does not exist. Of course, within minutes a horn blowing or siren shrieking slaps me back to reality.
Snowy egret, Shoal Creek near Cirrus Logic, Austin, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
The trestle is suffocated by vines, brambles, chinaberries, homeless camps, empty beer cans, Styrofoam containers, and the miscellaneous detritus that coils around its footings with each rain. To the north is a new metallic pedestrian bridge, a way to pass but not to stop. There is little reason to stop here on Shoal Creek, now.
I envision this trestle as Palenque first seen by Stephens and Catherwood, its grand temples and towers sprouting above a jungle that still held them captive. Our trestle isn’t the Temple of the Inscriptions. Our trestle is a tool, a practical, pragmatic structure that once carried trains across Shoal Creek to and from the downtown stations. Yet this simple wooden structure does offer a peek into an Austin that was, and serves as context for what it became. I wonder about the people who rode the trains. I wonder about what travelers must have thought when first faced by the white rocks and cedar trees at this edge of the west.