The falls are a true natural wonder, and with the frequent fluctuation of river level in this mildly arid part of the country, each visit is a new experience. And while the waters that cascade over the monolithic stack of rock are the stars of the show, the rest of the park also has it charms. Like a section of river for swimming and wading in the crystal waters. In addition to these attractions, the property features modern and primitive camping, hiking, biking, paddling, tubing and horseback riding…horse not included. If you find yourself traveling to Austin or anywhere in Central Texas, it’s certainly worth the drive to take in this experience.
On this excursion, our 3rd or 4th here, we started out hiking a loop that snaked along a ridge above the river, a mile or so below the falls and then moved on to the trail system above them. Using the term “trail system” to describe the upper falls area is generous. It’s a rolling and sometimes jagged, landward extension of stacked rock above and beside the cascading falls that give the park its name. The trail completely disappears in many places, leaving one to scour the terrain looking for the trodden path onward. There are attempts at markers, but they are too far between to be truly useful. I, for one, am a fan of this scenario as it creates a good excuse to explore and experience. The rocky, sandy terrain has one spend a good deal of time looking down and around for the next solid footing.
“Funny how these rocks beneath my feet look like little mountains,” remarks D over her shoulder after about an hour or so of hiking in and around this playground. I laughed and agreed — partially because she was right, and partially because I had that exact thought just minutes prior. I began imagining we were giants in some Tolkien tale traipsing over mountain ranges.
As we continued our walk in the park, my mind wasn’t content to stop its imagining at the outer reaches of our solar system and wandered even further to the outer reaches of space. The rocks got smaller, I got smaller, and then the mountains, the state, country, continent, planet, galaxy, and so on. Once we wrap our arms around a perspective that reaches beyond our own existence, it becomes clear that all things are both great AND small. And time spent wandering in nature offers ample reminder of our place in it. We are mountain to the mouse and mouse to the mountain.
Spending time in nature is a good thing. I think that sentiment became more widely held than ever as a global pandemic drove us out of our collective confines like rats from a sewer. And if you ask people why they venture out, you’ll likely get one or more of a few common answers. The beauty, the fresh air, the sun on one’s face, the exercise. I’s say there are many more—but for now, I want to reflect on just one that may be a little more obscure.
The opportunity to gain perspective—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
The society we live in today puts great value on things and people who are bigger, better, faster, & stronger. But nature, if we’ll let her, can foster a reverence in us for all that turns that equation on its head. Let’s work it backward. Instead of stronger, the delicacy of a butterfly wing or the tenuous and transient nature of a spider’s web is a celebration of gentleness that can remind us to be gentle with ourselves and others and to understand the impermanence of all things. Instead of faster, the babbling of a creek as it meanders through a meadow, the steady work of the honeybee gathering, the line of ants marching, or the bird methodically building its nest summons us to embrace a slower pace, to find the meditation in the mundane. As for the concept of “better,” even a few moments spent taking in the kaleidoscope of a sunset reveals the folly of judging it as better or worse than another.
Of all of these adjectives, however, we seem most obsessed with “bigger.” We want to live in a bigger house, get a bigger piece of the pie, have a bigger bank balance, catch a bigger fish, etc. Even when we endeavor to do the right thing in a difficult situation, we call it “being the bigger person.” What if we decided to embrace, even celebrate, our smallness. Not in terms of being lesser, but of being a small yet essential part of something magnificent. In a literal sense, we breathe out, and a tree or flower breathes in. When we “shuffle off this mortal coil” so that our spirit may return from whence it came, we leave behind a vessel that was made to become one again with the earth. Dust to dust.
But I’m thinking less in literal terms than energetic ones. Even the smallest gestures, made in love or made in fear, create ripples. Because I choose not to smash a honeybee that is buzzing around me, a vegetable will be pollinated to feed a hungry child, a flower will live to paint a meadow, and a tree will grow to be the earth’s lungs. At the very least, I will continue to enjoy wildflower honey in my morning cuppa. The collection of our choices, our very existence, contributes to the energetic vibration of all creation. When we hate, we add hate to the world. When we love, love. When we understand this, we also understand that there is no shame, no lack in being small. We can lay aside self-judgment and embrace the belonging that is our birthright.
As we reached a particularly beautiful and expansive view of the river, I crouched down for a better look at the rocks beneath my boots. Upon closer inspection, the little ridges and peaks underfoot indeed resembled the profile of large mountain ranges. I recall the Rockies looking very similar from a window seat cruising 30,000 feet up. It also occurred to me that the patterns in nature are consistent regardless of size. Like the way water in a stream flows the same way it does in a river. Like the fractal patterns that appear all over the natural world. And like these petite peaks underfoot. The imprint, the impact, is that same, only scaled. That steady predictability feels like something I can count on, a welcome measure of certainty in uncertain times.
Hiking back to the trailhead, I thought about how often I concern myself with making as big of an impact as possible in and with this life instead of embracing the intrinsic value of simply being. Like a firefly depressed it isn’t the sun or a drop of water who dreams of making waves…