Feature Article: Austin Outdoors

Humans of the Greenbelt:
A Field Guide

by Brittani Sonnenberg
Illustrations by Heather Sundquist

Most Austinites know all about the Greenbelt’s rich wildlife offerings. You’ve got your Western ribbon snake, your golden-cheeked warbler, your Eastern tailed-blue butterfly, your jumping spider, your shy Barton Creek salamander. But until now, no naturalist has taxonomized the wide array of humans found along the trail. This handy guide, compiled from months of copious research (see “Spotted Slacker,” below) now offers the definitive taxonomy of Greenbelt Types, using helpful identifiers such as markings and mating calls to make spotting easy and fun for the whole family. While you’re at it, ask your partner what “type” they think you are! Or maybe wait until couple’s therapy to inquire!

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The Spotted Slacker

Easily recognizable by their sloppy attire, sporting old jeans and threadbare T-shirts with numerous coffee and grease stains (hence the “spotted” moniker), this species once thrived throughout Austin (see Richard Linklater’s 1991 film Slacker), but have recently sought a new habitat in the Greenbelt. Co-working spaces, 9-5 cubicles, and “nail bars” have driven slackers of all stripes outdoors, blinking confusedly, probably hungover, in the bright sunlight. Astute naturalists, with some practice, will be able to identify sub-species of spotted slackers, detailed below.

The Toppling Slacker

Here’s a fun pneumonic: On a slack line, it’s a slacker. Like the yellow garden spider, toppling slackers love balancing on thin threads hung between trees (slack-lines), but unlike spiders, they fall off a lot. Toppling Slackers tend to travel in herds, making them easy to spot, and they enjoy a symbiotic relationship with other slacker subspecies, such as the drum-circle slacker, the hula-hoop slacker, and the slow-moving Marley Slacker. Toppling Slackers are also adept at “playing dead,” but don’t be alarmed, they’re usually just asleep or stoned out of their minds, thanks to the Marley Slacker’s excellent product.

The “Hey, I’m Not A Slacker, I’m an Artist” Slacker

Like all Spotted Slackers, this subspecies first emerges in the Greenbelt mid-afternoon, and distinguishes themselves from other slackers by carrying notebooks, guitars, or crayons. They’re not “hiking,” or “hanging out,” they’re “working on a screenplay,” “finding inspiration,” or “getting in touch with their inner child.”

Note: Many first-time Greenbelt Type naturalists will mistake a herd of well-dressed humans on slacklines for Spotted Slackers, when they are in fact Google or Indeed employees on a team-building exercise. The giveaways here are the nametags and the guy with a megaphone.

The Booming Humpback

According to some evolutionary biologists, the Booming Humpback should have died out in the late eighties, with the rising popularity of the Walkman, when humans no longer needed to walk around with a boombox (see Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”) to savor tunes. But much like the tailbone, the Booming Humpback mysteriously persists long past its function, blaring Top 40 Schlock along the trail, sometimes with a full speaker set. Largely viewed as pests, with a grating call that rivals the Grackle for auditory torture, biologists have speculated that the Humpback’s horrible music may serve as an (ineffective) mating call. Another school of biologists argue that Booming Humpbacks are simply out-of-work DJs, trying to cheer themselves up. Adele vs. Rihanna fights will occasionally break out among Booming Humpbacks competing for space at a waterfall, to the great distress of Aggrieved Treehuggers.
 

The Linked Bobo

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The Linked Bobo is so named because the species, while not monogamous, is largely found in pairs, often “linking” hands or other body parts (the bobos often engage in dangerous mating rituals in the Greenbelt’s undergrowth, risking poison ivy outbreaks, and you can often identify an unlucky bobo by its itching and swearing). “Bobo” is derived from bobonae, the Latin word for “really annoying.” Even the toughest scientists studying the Linked Bobo often report fighting feelings of extreme nausea when observing the dumb, lovesick expressions on bobos’ faces as they skip down the trail, feed each other Clif bars, and pose for wedding pictures. Occasionally, a Linked Bobo will try to mate with another Greenbelt species, such as a Spotted Slacker, which is a tragic occurrence. The Linked Bobo will think it is a “date,” while the slacker assumes they’re just “hanging out.”
 

The Neon Helmethead and the Kamikaze Trailrunner

The Neon Helmethead and the Kamikaze Trailrunner are two of the most aggressive species to be found on the Greenbelt, alongside the Aggrieved Treehugger (see opposite). Luckily, much like poisonous snakes, the garish coloring and too-tight fit of the “gear” that adorn these largely male species make them easy to recognize. Sadly, unlike snakes, Helmetheads and Trail-runners are not more scared of you than you are of them. Their sharp cries of “ONYOURLEFT” may give you a chance to jump out of the way, but every year, countless other wildlife fall prey to their wheels and thudding heels. Since they do not eat their victims, scientists have speculated that the killing may be accidental, though why the species are in such a hurry remains unsolved. One paper, published in Science last year, advanced the controversial theory that these speedy hunters are, in fact, the hunted, and that they are merely trying to escape a sinister, invisible pursuer: middle age.
 

The Banded Ex-Rocker

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Much as the Spotted Slackers have lost their habitat, the Banded Ex-Rocker has been forced to migrate away from downtown since the nineties, and they now nest in the northwest suburbs, have tech jobs, and lots of cars. Their limbs are decorated with colorful tattoos and their torsos are generally covered in a black band t-shirt. While their offspring are largely unmarked, the little boys tend to have long, Iggy Pop hair, while the girls excel at riot grrrrl tantrums. Their parents, once known for chucking beer bottles, screaming “death to capitalism” and puking on each other in the nineties, are now one of the more peaceful Greenbelt types, who have traded in their Doc Martens for expensive hiking boots.
 

The Aggrieved Treehugger

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While Aggrieved Treehuggers look like mild-mannered librarians in REI attire, make no mistake: they will mess you up for mistreating the environment. Their list of felonies includes, but is not limited to: talking too loud (see Screeching Talk Show Host), playing music (see Booming Humpback), leaving trash around (see Spotted Slack-er), and wearing disrespectful outfits (see Linked Bobo and Banded Ex-Rocker). Aggrieved Treehuggers have long fascinated naturalists as one of nature’s greatest contradictions: a species that purports to love nature, but does not seem to realize that fellow humans technically fall under this category. The park service has received numerous complaints from trees over the years about assaults and unwanted advances from Treehuggers, from “hugging” and even “kissing” to scrawled messages like “Environmental Justice 4ever” in chalk on their tree trunks.
 

The Screeching Talk Show Host

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The Screeching Talk Show Host’s habitat is not limited to the Greenbelt; the brightly colored species can be spotted throughout Austin, as they also roost in coffee shops, yoga studios, living room couches, and Neiman Marcus dressing rooms. You can attract Screechers to your own backyard by leaving out trays of cheese and crackers and large glasses of wine, although some wildlife lovers have complained that, like sparrows at birdfeeders, Screechers will drive away the rest of the animals. You can recognize a Screecher by its signature calls: “He just doesn’t communicate,” “So according to Brené Brown,” and “So then I texted—” Some naturalists have hypothesized that Screechers are, in fact, the female counterparts of Helmetheads and Trailrunners, which would explain why the males are prone to sweaty flight, and why the females describe the males as “cowardly” and “unavailable.”
 

Endangered and Migratory Species

A quick word will suffice on rarer finds, such as the Hatted Texan, now at risk of extinction in the Austin area, with their distinctive greeting calls of “Howdy,” or even “Hidy,” to fellow wildlife. Then there are the migratory species that pass through the Greenbelt, peaking in early March, though some specimens, such as the Wide-Eyed Swedish Indie Star, have been spotted in the Greenbelt well into September, sunburned, sporting platinum SXSW badges, and still looking for that club on Red River Street.


Read more from the Outdoors Issue | April 2017