Thursday, October 15, 2009
In August of 2007, my brother took me to Barton Springs in Austin because he knows how much I like to swim. The calm water of this spring-fed swimming hole was surprisingly cold at first despite the summer heat. I fell in love with the springs at once and found a Jesus Boy amongst the nymphs at the water's edge. Now whenever I go back to Austin, it is the first place that I go.
Barton Springs was described in The Unforeseen, a documentary film about development that threatened to contaminate the springs, as the "spiritual center" of Austin, and it's hard not to feel that on some level. Sometimes in the summer, there are hundreds of bodies lying on the grass, floating in the water, and walking along the trails.
The pool is surrounded by a fence, and it costs a few dollars to get inside. Two distinct communities are separated by the fence: those who can pay to swim and to tan on the lawn, and those who congregate at the edges where the water from the springs spills into the creek. The division is obvious - the right and wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.
The wrong side of the tracks is comprised of teenage boys and girls, pot-smokers, beer-drinkers, hippies, runaways, war veterans, dreamers, lost souls, ex-cons, low income families, young couples and more than a few pit bulls. Some of the regulars could be found there every day, and the economy and joblessness seemed to create even more of a haven for drifters from all parts of the country who found refuge in Austin.
I never anticipated my growing collection of tattooed male chests ... which were everywhere near the creek. Encountering George along the trail brought to mind Jacob on Main Street in Binghamton. They were both walkers and loners whose bodies were covered with cryptic messages and rippling muscles. Both were almost startling in their beauty and their rebel vulnerability. Both were so open and sincere and glad to be noticed. Perhaps it is the same picture in another time and place.