I’d been planning to visit my friend Kevin’s sister and her family in Austin before all the crazy came about, and they very kindly still offered to take me into their home as part of their social distancing group. I hung out for a few days with Darla, Jeff and their kids in a suburb of Austin where we watched movies and tv, played, ate, and got used to their new ‘spring break is going to last longer than we thought’ lifestyle. Initially they’d had plans to go skiing in Utah which were cancelled just before I arrived, so with them in town for longer I stayed a bit longer than I’d planned. In a sad twist of fate, had they been able to go on their trip as planned, they would have been flying into Salt Lake City the day the earthquake hit there, so sometimes things work out in a weird way- not at all to imply there is any good to be had from the earthquake and all affected, but at least there were fewer spring break visitors and travelers there to sort out.

While the fun crazy of SXSW I’d once planned to take in was a no go, and most sites were closed for good reason. I still tried to make the most of my visit by doing some walking and hiking at un-crowded sites, one day on my own and another with the family.

I went out to catch the view from Mt. Bonnell overlooking Lake Travis, which gave views of the tranquil lake and its many multimillion dollar homes, docks, and gardens. As more people had the same idea, I hightailed it out of there and went to the nearby McKinney Falls State Park to do some walking. The trail I took was almost completely empty once I ventured past the first area of water by a small cliff falls where kids and dogs were playing in the water on the warm afternoon. My trail took me past an old farmstead remains, old gristmill ruins, a small pond, woods with fern undergrowth, and more sunny arid areas. The highlight by far were the clusters of cacti and wildflowers bringing some much appreciated color to my day. How lucky to see the famous Texas bluebonnets in their almost prime!

Another day the kids, Darla and I went for a walk from the Barton Springs around part of Zilker Park with great views of the downtown skyline. We watched from afar as a child threw breadcrumbs in the river (or is it the lake there?) and attracted hoards of ducks, birds, turtles, and fish in a small cove. We practiced our aim by tossing stones at a rock target in the water. We did a nature scavenger hunt with the kids. The kids got tired and hungry until we had a picnic on a hill we had to ourselves. There were definitely other people out and about with the same idea who needed some fresh air and exercise, but everyone kept their distances and kept on moving or found their own space.

After lunch in the park they gave me a driving tour of the downtown sights. I’d been to Austin once a few years ago to attend ACL Fest with friends, so it wasn’t the usual day to day experience, and it sure wasn’t now either, but the upside of social distancing and most shops and restaurants being closed was that there was ample parking and we could hop out to sneak in some pics at a few of the famous murals around town. Restaurants as of now here are limited to drive through, take out, and delivery, so while the kids had been warned that it would likely be closed it was a happy surprise to find their fave ice cream stand open for take out. They talked it up big, but the Mexican Vanilla ice cream did not let me down. It was extremely strange to be on such a normally busy street with almost zero traffic and very few pedestrians out. On 6th street, normally crazy busy at the bars and restaurants it’s known for, some establishments were even boarding up their storefronts like before a hurricane as they prepared for who knows how long being unattended in strange times.

Before heading back home we did one last stop at a funky restaurant on Lake Travis which was closed but we could still look around at the array of sculptures and art around the grounds. The Oasis seems like it would be quite the spectacle on a busy night, and the view was worth going even without all the crazy art.

Aside from these brief forays out with caution and a bubble, we mainly kept to the house, which wasn’t hard given the cozy lounge areas inside and out, the pool and hot tub, and other great features a nice place in the burbs offer. At this rate I may just live here now.

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