Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

Another in a series of urban wilderness adventures with our man Bill Holston. In this installment, he reveals the spirituality of duct tape.

Weekend Entertainment
By Bill Holston

I’m not a patient person. My good friend Jeff tells me that I’m the least patient person he knows. He’s a federal judge, so he’s got some experience to gauge this. So, one of the benefits of spending time in the out of doors and trying to learn about nature is that it requires time and patience to see things. I want to put into practice the things I’m learning through the Master Naturalist program, and I’m finding it’s taking some patience to pay attention. If you want to identify wildlife, you’ve got to really stop and watch.

I didn’t hike as much on Saturday, as I was putting in some Master Naturalist volunteer hours at the Spring Creek Forest. Our intrepid leader Matt guided us in talking out an old fence along one of the trails. We used bolt cutters to cut the barbed wire and pulled all of it away from the trees that have grown up along the old fence line. You can tell what birds like to eat, because as they sit on fence line, they drop seeds. Apparently the birds are big fans of hackberrys here. Setting a fence is hard work, but I think removing that fence 30 years later, when brush and trees have actually grown up and enveloped it, is even harder work.

Sunday, I had a splendid hike at Spring Creek Nature Preserve (Plano and Renner Road, with parking on Braeburn). It was a beautiful spring day, in the 70s. I parked the car and started down the paved trail. As often as I can, I veer off into the woods and walk the dirt paths that cut through these woods. Eventually I made my way across the meadow, and toward Spring Creek. I saw antelope horn milkweed (Asclepias asperula), which is the primary food source for monarch butterflies. I saw a couple of monarchs in the vicinity. Monarchs are amazing when you realize that they migrate from their winter sanctuary in Central Mexico, making their way over 2,500 miles to Canada.

I walked down toward Caruth spring. Sadly, there was a bunch of trash. Someone had carried in a bag of grocery store firewood and built a fire. They left behind plastic water bottle trash and one Negra Modelo empty. I’m not sure what sort of party has one beer and a lot of bottled water, but who am I to judge? I bagged up the trash and threw the unburned firewood into the brush, and walked over to the creek. I spotted what I think was a black chinned hummingbird perched in the top of a dead tree. I sat and watched it, before it darted away. I’ve got so much to learn. I’m still pretty weak on identifying hummingbirds.

I made my way over to the bluff overlooking Spring Creek. I was happy to see that wildflowers are starting to sprout. The foxglove that favors the rocky soil at the top of the bluff is already blooming and is quite beautiful (Scrophulariaceae Penstemon cobaea). The Arkansas yucca (Yucca Arkansana) is sending up shoots, and I’ll see their showy white blossoms soon.

I sat on the bluff and pulled out my journal and my Psalms. I reread the Psalm from the day before, Psalm 143, “I muse on the work of Your hands.” I read the Psalms because they most closely resemble my own spiritual life. 1997 was a difficult year, the year my mom was dying of ovarian cancer. It was my first time to see death up close, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. During this time, I began discovering a more contemplative spirituality. One day, I was at Borders and I was looking at Thomas Merton’s Journal of the Psalms. I decided rather than reading that, I would do that, and I began to journal through the Psalms. I read them every year. This year, I took a Psalms from an old Bible that was falling apart. I bound it with duct tape. Like many, I’ve found that duct tape has a spiritual component. I keep this Psalms in my daypack. In the front of this Psalms, I taped a photo of me drinking a Guinness at Mulligan’s Pub on Poolbeg Street in Dublin. Under the photo is this quote from Psalm 104:

14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; 15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man.

The Psalms are full of doubt, joy, despair, and, like this Psalm, musing at the beauty of creation. It’s why I loved Doug Burr’s Shawl CD so much. All of the lyrics are taken verbatim from the Psalms. I remember when Doug was developing the songs for that CD. He was artist in residence at Club Dada. He performed these songs during Amanda Newman’s Thursday evening series featuring local songwriters. When he sang these songs, people would quietly put down their Shiners and listen to these words.

I sat in silence for a long time on that bluff, just listening to the water flowing 30 feet below me. A flash of brilliant white caught my attention. A great egret landed in the pool just below me. Its large size and black feet differentiate it from the snowy egret. I pulled out my binoculars and watched it as it made its way across the pool, looking for fish. It’s long neck snaked back and forth, its eyes on each side of its beak, ready to see fish. It was a really elegant dance. As I was watching the egret in the binoculars, two male mallards swam into the field of vision. I watched the comical sight of them upending to stick their heads under water and fish. It’s actually pretty entertaining to watch as they paddle against the current, to keep their tail feathers in the air and their heads under water.

I walked along the bluff and saw a turtle sunning on a rock in the middle of the creek. The red patches on the sides of its head told me it was a red eared slider. I walked to the bridge over Spring Creek. I stood on the bridge watching two male sunfish constructing nests in the gravel. Using their tails, they sweep away the silt in large, perfect circles, creating a nest. They then guard the nests until the fish hatch. I stood watching the show for a long time. Last week at the same spot, I heard a belted kingfisher’s rattle and then watched it swoop up the creek, resting in a tree. On the other side of the bridge, a red shoulder’s hawk posed in the top of a dead tree.

I made my way back toward the car, stopping to watch a snapping turtle make its way up the banks of a shallow stream. I stopped at another bluff overlooking the creek, watching a 3-foot-long diamondback water snake slide along the limestone banks, slipping back into the creek and under a ledge.

This had been a particularly entertaining week for my wife, Jill, and me. We completely enjoyed the Dallas International Film Festival, especially the shorts programs. (One of my favorites was Pioneer, from local filmmakers.) We ended the week on Friday at the marvelous Kessler Theater. Local bands Trinity River Folk and Singapore Slingers were both completely entertaining. I reflected on the idea, that with a little patience, I’d witnessed quite a show on my walk in the woods that Sunday morning. Sitting on the bluff for an hour watching a great egret stalking fish and, later, fish creating nests in the gravel had been, well, entertaining. I suppose it’s why people create aquariums. But here, there’s a water show every day. As I walked along the concrete part of the path, I saw people plugged into their iPods and even occasionally talking on a phone, totally unaware of the non-human community that surrounds them. There’s quite a show waiting, if you’ll just take the time to watch.


  • zaner

    Excellent and inspirational as usual, Bill.

  • Paul Semrad

    Thanks, for the shout out Bill.

  • This is such great read–so glad to see Bill’s work published.

  • Goteamwarr

    Thanks for the shout out, Bill. That month of watching Doug work and gloriously find his way through the Psalms was a breathtaking experience and one I proud to have shared with you.

  • katherine trotter

    awesome commentary … nature, thanks to God.
    Thomas Merton … great inspiration!