Escaping: The Levee on the Border by Marisa Parks

End of Lakefield Blvd.
Sugar Land, Texas 77479

January 2004–To some people, the quaint middle class suburb of Sugar Land, Texas is a haven from the harsh atmosphere of the big city. It is a good place to raise a family away from the constant crime plaguing Houston, yet it retains all of the features of the city. Sometimes, though, this master-planned community proves to be too much for me. The concrete that stretches to the horizon seems dull and imposing, and the perfect landscaping takes away from a sense of nature, rather than adding to it. All around, you can see houses made by the same builders and trendy cars and everything else as it falls into its pre-planned place.

As you drive in to the Lakes of Austin Park subdivision, nothing seems to change. It appears a typical extension of Sugar Land, just like any other neighborhood in the area. Perhaps it is a bit more serene than others though, a feeling that is created by a number of lakes running along the left side of the neighborhood and the streets which are named after tropical islands like Jamaica, Nassau, and the Grand Caymans. Keep driving down Lakefield Boulevard and you will eventually come to a dead end: a small park with swings and a gazebo blocks the view of the long lake on the left, the last of the houses run perpendicular to you on the right, and a fence encloses a hill in the foreground. During my first trips down to the end of the road, I passed the time swinging in severely undersized swings and flicking mulch at an unappreciative friend. Soon enough though, I found myself intrigued by what lay on the other side of the fence-enclosed hill diagonal from the park. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and I bravely crossed over the fence to what lay on the other side. Instead of the beautiful and picturesque valley I had secretly hoped for, there was nothing but a tangled and weathered forest, and the hill turned out not to be a hill, but a long levee stretching far beyond both sides of the neighborhood.

I am certain that a fair number of neighborhood residents know the levee is here, and yet, I have never encountered another person during my countless trips upon it. It is the levee that offers me some of my few opportunities to escape from the hectic and monotonous life of the city. For houses are all you can see on the right, but untamed forest is all you see on the left.

Despite the mental serenity the levee brings, walking on it is not always the easiest task to undertake. The ground is rough, hard, littered with rocks, and filled with holes and other inconsistencies. But somehow, all of this can easily be overlooked as I stumble along. It is as if the rugged ground combines with the forest’s appearance to make the location seem even further removed from society. It is an almost pleasing change to walk along the bumpy ground, as opposed to the smooth concrete that I am so accustomed to traveling upon.

There are two routes you can choose from once you climb atop the levee. One path, leading left, offers a pleasant view of the neighborhood lining the far side of the lake. You can see the infamous ship park, which (much to my dismay) no longer bears the huge battleship play-structure that once gave it its name but now contains jungle-gyms and swings that look like they could be on display in an abstract art exhibit. You can witness hordes of people playing volleyball on the courts across the lake, trying to impress each other, and hear the distant splashing of kids playing Marco Polo at the Aquatic Center. If you choose this path though, be warned that you will all too soon arrive right back in the place you were trying to escape.

The second path, the one taking you to the right, leads you first behind the last street in the neighborhood, and then left through a short tunnel near the edge of the forest. If looking for a semi-permanent feeling of being outside the confines of society, where you can watch it all go by and not be noticed, venture left. As you watch over the cars speeding past, a sense of what can almost be described as superiority washes over you. It is as if I have been able to find a place that no one else has, and I almost feel the urge to laugh at their misfortune.

To the right however, I can achieve a more complete peace of mind.. It is almost as if the path was made especially for me, to quench my desires to get away. I can listen to the crickets, chirping incessantly from deep within the forest. I can listen to the wind whistle as it squeezes between closely knit branches. At the end of the row of houses, I must pass over an old-fashioned fence to get to the turn off in the path, leading deeper into the forest, but it is very short and forces me to return far sooner than I would like. Often, I just walk back and forth along this short path, for it is completely part of another world. Coincidentally, this is near the legal end of Sugar Land as well – sometimes I feel as if this forest was left here for a reason. It makes me imagine a time before I was born when everything in the area was like to this. Until about twenty years ago, the whole area was part of Frost Ranch. But slowly, the city grew, quickly buying more and more of the Frost’s land to allow yet another Walgreen’s to be built. Up until a few years ago you could drive along Highway 6 and see the last remains of the ranch: decrepit fences, a few horses grazing in a wild pasture, and a barn that looked ready to collapse. But even the last remains of the ranch are gone now, for Riverside (offering homes from the $250’s to over $3 million) has now begun construction.

But the levee remains intact. The area does not have a particularly light feel, for the scenery is not the most beautiful that one can imagine. Instead, it has a sort of gothic appeal, for the forest is dark and slightly foreboding, and the ground is rough and hard. It could almost be seen as a dejected piece of the landscape – not beautiful enough for admiration and not quite suitable for building upon. It seems to have a mind of its own, however, and seems quite content with the position it is in. For it is not the scenery that really matters at all, but instead, the feeling that the scenery emits. It is rugged but real. And this, in the end, is what keeps me coming back to the levee time after time, to find a bit of open space and fresh air to free my mind. It is the reality of the levee that is in such contrast with the false atmosphere of everyday life, with huge buildings and hurried people faking cordiality. A place like this is hard to come by, and it is a relief to have found a place in the big city where things like this are possible.

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City of Sugar Land

First Colony

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