Tranquility Among Peoples: Lakes of Austin Park

Neighborhood Lake
Austin Parkway and Lakefield Blvd.
Sugar Land, Texas 77479

January 2004–The sun is setting beyond the horizon of suburban housetops and enormously tall, metallic power lines, the kind of unthreatening power lines with their own designated area in fields far away from playing children and fathers trimming their trees. As I open the front door of my red brick, two story house with forest green shutters on every window, I make my way to the mailbox at the end of the street. This is a safe neighborhood with people who don’t take any chances, even when it comes to the convenience of having your own unlocked mailbox in front of your house. My bare feet touch the warm pavement soaking up the sunshine from the day as my feet are pounding onward towards the locker containing bills, coupons, and letters.

On the left side, and across the street Nigerian food is being cooked. I recognize the smell because a few weeks ago I attended a graduation party where I sampled many delectable ethnic dishes with names I couldn’t pronounce. Just a few houses down from where I’m walking, I detect the aroma of Chinese food. These neighbors have a garden in their backyard and bring us the biggest cucumbers I have ever seen in crumpled up paper bags as a gesture of neighborly kindness. The Egyptian family resides two houses down the row of the comforting brick houses on Bermuda Drive. I have never eaten over there, but as a child I went swimming in their tropical oasis-like pool. Finally the distinct smell of curry spices cuts through the air, and I know exactly where it is coming from. There is an Indian family who lives here, whose daughter used to baby-sit my sister and I. About five years ago she made it on to a college episode of “Wheel of Fortune.” Her proud family posted on the mailbox the time and day of the airing so we could all watch it. I’m finally to the rusty, wobbly, gray painted mailbox. The only mail for me is from technology and community colleges. As I am walking up my driveway with the mail in a loud, plastic grocery sack, I return to the smell of my own dad grilling chicken.

After dinner when everyone’s belly is filled with their own native cooking and the air is cooler outside, it is common for many of the families and couples in our neighborhood to go for a walk around the man-made lake that wraps around our peninsula-like neighborhood. The land the lake was carved into used to belong to the Frost Ranch. “In the 1940s a man named Gerald Hines took flying lessons above the Frost Ranch land he would later purchase and develop into First Colony.”(Perin) These lands served as a purpose for growing sugar cane and other crops. On the other side of the lake behind a levee there remains a large pasture of cattle. It was common to hear the melodic groan from the cows in the morning when I stepped out into my dew covered backyard. At a glance the lake is beautiful and the ripples and mini-waves shine like crystals from the sunlight. The grass around the lake is green and well kept. Various strategically planted trees circle the lake to provide shade to picnickers and people seeking solace by the water. The lake is stocked with fish every year bringing recreational fishers as well as raggedly dressed men who drive washed out, blue Cadillacs with loose tail lights.

When I first moved into my house I never questioned whether or not the lake was clean, it was new and looked clean to me. I saw people swimming in the water on more than one occasion. If someone were to do that today they might be branded insane, or diagnosed with some terrible bacterial infection, or feared to have the same effects a New York Sewers Ooze had on the Ninja Turtle. The water is very stagnant, so mosquitoes thrive and bite while kids from the block are trying to enjoy neighborhood games of kickball. Trash, leaves, and chemicals of fertilizers that runoff into the lake, form a ring around the edge. After saving up enough birthday money, I purchased a four-man raft and oars this summer to carouse around the lake for fun, but most of the excursions turned unpleasant when I was stuck in a big massive floating dump. The lake being unnatural and polluted, still has noteworthy qualities that many can enjoy. A wetland environment is one of the most innovative concepts to relieve the normalcy of suburban living.

As I told you before, it’s after dinner and time for the family to go on our daily evening walk around the paved path through our neighborhood that weaves around the lake. The lake curves from the entrance of the neighborhood all the way to the last street where I live, with the other shore residing behind my backyard fence. I would follow shortly behind my parents on a bike while they steadily walked onward. I think they appreciate this in a way because it gave them more space to talk about problems at school or at my dad’s workplace. Women dressed in Indian saris, or with their faces completely covered wearing some kind of draping would step aside for me on the path around the horseshoe shaped lake to let me pass by on my bike. Everyone almost always says hello as they walk past others. If a ball or Frisbee crosses the path of the regular evening walkers they would stop and retrieve the item to the people playing. That’s what I like about this neighborhood; it isn’t completely full of rich or close-minded people that think they are too good to interact with the common public or individuals from different cultures.

You can catch clips of conversations made by the walkers. As I zipped by unsuspecting parties, I nosily eavesdropped the usual dialogue, that consisted of family problems or upcoming events. As I rode my bike behind my parents I heard them talking about building a deck for our backyard, at the same time I also hear part of a conversation in Spanish going on behind me. I used to ride my bike on this same sidewalk to elementary school almost everyday. It was a refreshing and beautiful way to start the long day of sitting under fluorescent lights in unforgiving classrooms. I would watch the sun come up over the lake and reflect a net of diamonds bouncing off the water.

Feeding the massive duck population is a popular activity to partake at this lake in one’s own leisure time. There used to be other kind of wildlife like alligators, but they were seen as a threat to the people in the neighborhood. They were worried that the alligators would try to snatch dogs or children if they got too close to the lake. The food chain here is discombobulated. The duck population is enormous now, at unnatural levels leaving the sidewalks and streets covered with bird droppings. There is an overweight white woman who sits for hours almost everyday feeding the ducks. One time during one of my excursions in a raft with a few friends around the lake, geese started to encircle us. They were honking and trying to peck at the raft, so naturally we were waving the oars at the foul. While nervously laughing, my friends were looking at me with disgust, questioning why I would put them in a position of danger like this one. I looked back at them saying, “I don’t know what’s going on, this has never happened before, but keep on whacking!” The woman angrily yelled at us to stop, and we were thinking, “Oh, what now?” She made a strange noise and the wild geese flew to the grassy shore and allowed the big woman to pet their feathered backs. I believe this woman had tamed the geese, probably by means of food which we didn’t have, and that’s why they came so boldly close.

Several years ago, before new houses were built on the other side of the lake, we had a huge fireworks display every Fourth of July. The new houses were a big controversy to the others already living here. They were worried their natural view of the lake, trees, and fields would be obstructed and urbanized. Well Corporate America and investors won of course, but not all was lost. There is a branch of the Brazos River that is lined with many trees that is still visible past the levee beyond the lake. Our lakefront house was the site of the entire New Hope Lutheran Church Fourth of July party. Our church wasn’t a Lakewood type of televised church, but it wasn’t a one room small church either. I felt privileged that others came to enjoy what was in our own backyard. We had the BBQ going with hotdogs, burgers, and chicken, as well as the yard lined with tables and chairs with red checkered table cloths. Some kids brought sparklers and pop rocks, while others played on our swing set. Our party wasn’t the only thing bringing hundreds of people out to our neighborhood. Around the entire lake, people from miles away filled nearly every grassy spot with a blanket, cooler, and their families.

How did these people know that this was the perfect place to choose to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July? People I had never seen before in this area of all ethnic groups, possibly family members of the cultural mecca of what our neighborhood is were there to celebrate. As a child I remember petting exotic cats at my Egyptian friend’s house, eating rice and watching “Bill and Ted’s Awesome Adventure” at my Chinese friend’s house, learning how to play basketball from the black kids in the neighborhood, meeting people from my Jewish friend’s Temple, and playing “Pogs” with the Indian kids who all lived on my one block. The community, lake and its surrounding area in the neighborhood of Lakes of Austin Park is an oasis and safe place for growing up, living, and participating in recreational activities no matter what your ethnic or cultural background. This neighborhood teaches people of different cultures to interact peacefully, no matter how great their diversity may be. This neighborhood greatly influenced who I am today.

Map:

 First Colony Parks and Recreation

 First Colony

First Colony Real Estate

 Duck Overpopulation

 Alligators in Neighborhoods

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