07 November 2011

Where the Road Ends the Wild Begins

One of the great joys of growing up in the suburbs in the 70s and 80s was the adventure that awaited us where the roads ended - where the new neighborhoods paused before oozing forth again under another round of growth.

Sometimes these spaces had already been cleared. Sometimes they had roads but no houses. Sometimes they were just pockets of forests that had no idea they were being eyed by the beady eyes of neighborhood developers.

For us kids, they were where we ran free, where we played kick the can, road dirt bikes, sculpted ramps, build forts, found old ruins, played make believe and generally explored life and community. Sometimes, I'm sure it was a very Lord of the Flies.

Since then, I've always held a soft spot for brownfields and strange properties that haven't yet developed. Those places that stand forgotten or undeveloped among our cities. These are different than wild spaces, because they bear the mark of humanity but they are places where nature shows us that she still holds the keys to the car. Long after us, nature will be there (unless we really f&%$ it up bad).

These brownfields are Mad Max in their weird combination of old asphalt and plants. They hold fascinating surprises and mixes of plants and animals.

One such place for me now is right around the corner - a huge playground that is the old Mueller Airport. The old airport, as any Austinite knows, is being redeveloped into an urban neighborhood oasis. But the process is slow going, and there's a ton of fascinating and awesome urban ecology happening in the Mueller Hinterlands.

Here is a beautiful stand of gayfeather (Liatris) going to seed.

And among the rose-colored stalks, I spied this amazingly concealed caterpillar. Can you see it?

It's pretty phenomenal that this species - whatever it is - is able to match the exact color of this liatris, and that the parent was able to find this liatris plant upon which to lay its eggs in this urban maze so devoid of other liatris plants.

A gourd, some asters, goldenrods and milkweeds, all making their home in the hinterlands.

And, in my opinion, this may be one of the most bad ass abodes in town. I bet they have an amazing view of the sunsets and the swallowtail flycatchers dipping across the hinterlands. They may even see a fox or two.

Shhhh. Don't tell anyone. Austin really is like the wild wild West sometimes, even in the middle of the city...


Bluestem said...

This post took me back to my younger days of exploring vacant lots, railroad tracks, woods, and other forgotten places. Those were the best times. They were full of adventure and mystery.

The Curious Holts said...

What a fantastic post!!! I grew up in the middle of the Big Thicket which is now a national preserve. Railroad tracks, johnboat down the bayou, swamps, deserted cars in the middle of the forest...heaven. And, oh yes, very, very LotFlies at times. Plus secret smoking in the fort started at around age 6!

The Curious Holts said...

PS I LOVE that casa. Where on earth?

jgust said...

My husband must have grown up there just where ya'll live. He says that General MacArthur came home there to Mueller's Airport to a heroes welcome there after been fired by Harry Truman. My husband was 10 years old, or so. He also says that is where he first shook hands with JFKennedy.