The vultures of SXSW (redux)
When I went for my run the other day, I encountered these two vultures watching the Uber cars pour off the ramp here at the edge of town, carrying the first wave of SXSW visitors from the airport to their destinations downtown. It got me thinking about how the pandemic lockdown was declared two years ago this weekend, and many of the friends who were in town then abruptly flew home for fear all flights would soon be cancelled. Friends are in town again this week for the festival, and I am busy with another project, so this week’s notes are brief.
Spring’s arrival was most definitively confirmed this week by the first large snake trying to find its way in to the living room through our patio door. My wife was the one who found it, when she opened the door and noticed the serpent under her feet. That she laughed rather than shrieked is a testament to a decade enjoying or perhaps just enduring our experiment in the feral house.
A more photogenic sign of spring can be found in the first blooms of spiderwort along the edge of the bluff. That these plants thrive in the trash-ridden soil of this old dumpsite, under the shade of tall scrubby hackberrys, always amazes me. It’s the first time I’ve really noticed how feathery and fragile (and how intensely purple) their stamens are.
Last Sunday morning the edgeland cur and I walked down along the river, where the ospreys were busy on patrol.
On the shoals under the bridge, a pair of caracara were enjoying some marine carcass. Up above, you could see the secret camp in the bamboo behind the playground, and I wondered if it’s still occupied. After a little while the caracara flew off, each with a big chunk in their talons, and the vultures moved in to enjoy the left-behinds.
Perhaps in preparation for SXSW, the road crews finishing out the landscaping under the new tollway cleared out all the camps that folks had built under the shelter of those massive overpasses over the long cold winter we are still not fully emerged from. A week ago there were three tents pitched there, and by Saturday they were all gone, replaced by uniform layouts of flood-tolerant rock. I saw one dude emerge from the woods and push his shopping cart up the berm, and wondered if he’s the one with the campfire going on the little island.
When I crossed the bridge after my encounter with the vultures, I found a dude sitting in his car taking a long lunch with the drivers’ door open and driving his miniature Ford Raptor over the smaller berm by the trailhead, using remote control. TGIF.
The vultures were back in that rooftop spot Saturday, as SXSW kicked off in earnest. In the afternoon I found Spider-man’s mask there on the deserted traffic island, and I wondered what the backstory was.
A few minutes later when I got to my turnaround point at the riverine overlook, I saw the same guy I had seen hanging out there with my friend Bill last week. He was sitting under a tree at the trail’s end, working his way through a six pack and looking a little ruddy. We exchanged greetings and he told me enthusiastically and colorfully that he had just seen a huge school of white bass swimming and shimmering fast through the shallows. A more definitive sign of Central Texas spring than any flower, and maybe even than a living room snake. Almost enough to make you forget the other news.
A friend sent me a Reuters story this week about foreign fighters traveling to join in the defense of the Ukraine. One of them was described in the story as “a burly Canadian who identified himself only as Sig.” Which made me wonder if the guy had taken a nom de guerre after the same-named and similarly occupied character from my novel Tropic of Kansas, or if it was just a freaky coincidence.
Another friend tipped me off to the excellent piece in this week’s New Yorker by Austin’s Lawrence Wright about the emerging jurisprudence on the rights and personhood of animals. Reading the account and hearing what the judges say, you can almost believe a radical change is around the corner.
This week’s vultures got me thinking about one of my earliest installments of this newsletter, “The vultures of SXSW,” which I published on March 8, 2020, just before lockdown. What a curious thing to revisit the world on the other side of what we have just been through.
I’ll be back next week with a fuller installment. In the meantime, have a great week.