Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

This week, our man Bill tackles the wilds of Harry S. Moss Park.

Nature Off Leash
By Bill Holston

When was the last time you explored a new place? No, not a new restaurant. I mean a place that might be a little scary. No, not an endoscopy center. (Colonoscopy was all clear, thanks for asking.) I mean a place that’s still a little wild.

One of my favorite directors is John Sayles, (Return of Secaucus 7, Matewan, Lone Star). In the film Sunshine State, the characters talk about “nature on a leash.” I prefer my nature off leash. I love heading into woods that are really not developed at all. I prefer dirt trails, with no maps, trying to find a way across a creek, where there is no bridge. That’s a rare thing, especially in a place that is as urban as Dallas. I was emerging from the woods the other day, and a young boy was riding his bike with his dad. He asked me, “Are you an explorer?” Well, not really, but I continue to discover new trails. There’s a wonderful sense of discovery in walking on dirt trails through woods. I love the sense of adventure. Like life, I enjoy experiencing. I really don’t know what’s around the next corner. Okay, I enjoy that more in hiking than in life.

I knocked off work early this week to take advantage of the nice weather. If you’re thinking, “Man, I wish I worked for myself like Bill does,” I’ll add I’ve had exactly one two-week vacation in 30 years of practicing law.

This was the third time I’ve ventured to Harry S. Moss Park, and I’m enjoying it more with each visit. My first trip was to hike the DORBA bike trail, which you access by the soccer fields off of Greenville, just past Walnut. There’s a helpful kiosk at the trailhead with a map of all of the trails. The trails are well marked, as all of the DORBA trails are, and are color coded. Like most of the DORBA trails, there are multiple loops. The best way for a hiker to experience these trails is to find the outer loop and walk it. I walked the Blue loop, until it crossed under Walnut, and then the Green loop. It’s a totally shaded trail. The only negative for me was the abundance of plastic bottles that litter the floodplain. It’s a losing battle to remove all of that, I fear. I can’t bear to use those bottles anymore. I walked back along the old railroad right of way, back to Walnut, and then returned along the Blue loop. The entire hike was about 2 or 3 miles.

This week I explored a more interesting part of the park. I parked at the small park on the corner of Royal and Greenville. There’s a bridge over a small creek (the Richardson Branch) and a dirt trail that heads up a short rise and a huge field. The field had been recently mowed. That’s probably a good thing, as mowing mimics the effects of fire to some extent and keeps out woody invasives like juniper. It’s a really pretty walk as the trail ascends a small hill, with great views of the city. There are beautiful tall bunches of switch grass in the fields. At the crest of the hill, below, I could see a trail that entered a heavily wooded area. As I was walking, a Red Shouldered Hawk soared high overhead, before making its way south in the direction I was headed. I smiled, thinking it was a cosmic gift to me for my afternoon stroll. That immediately brightened my mood. Apparently, this place was occupied as a farm by Harry Moss, who generously donated the land to the city for use as a nature area. I’m glad he stipulated it should be preserved as a nature preserve. If you look at a Google map, you’ll see Harry Moss Park is a sea of green in the middle of our city.

This can be a confusing place to hike. There are no signs or maps. There are dense woods, and multiple trails cross them. If you look at Google map, you’ll notice that there are woods and a trail that runs north-south, skirting the woods on the western edge. There are also a number of trails that enter the woods, which can be accessed a number of places. I took one of those trails and followed it, roughly working to the south, in the direction of Walnut Hill. The trails are wide and easy to follow. There are some big old trees in here, Burr Oaks, Pecans, Bois D’arcs, and Cedar Elms. Some of the lower areas are covered with Canadian Wild Rye. There was very little blooming, other than an occasional sunflower, and some showy Pink Guara. Eventually, the trail crosses a power line easement. I hiked a bit farther, until the trail disappeared into Johnson Grass. I could hear the Mississippi drawl of my departed mother saying, “Watch out for snakes,” so I turned around at that point.

I walked back through the dense woods and ran into Frank, a fellow hiker with a couple dogs. We stood and talked for a while. He walks his dogs in these woods pretty frequently. We were standing on a forest edge. Interestingly, I saw more wildlife while Frank and I talked than I had all afternoon. He told me that he had watched Red Shouldered Hawks nest here and had watched several broods of chicks. As if on cue, a hawk landed in the thicket behind us. We heard and then watched Red Bellied Woodpeckers in the dead trees; blue jays, mockingbirds, and what I believe was a female Orchard Oriole. I glanced up to watch a Sharp Shinned Hawk swoop just above us. Frank mentioned that he had met a man on the trail that had lived in the neighborhood for years before exploring. There, just a mile from his house, was a dense wood, filled with wildlife and forest, his for just taking the effort to explore. We talked about the different things that he’d seen here, watching the Red Shouldered Hawks nest, year after year. He said he used to jog, but now he came here to let his dogs run. At the end of the conversation, I introduced myself, and he gave me his card. I learned was a lawyer retired from a big law firm.

Meeting Frank got me thinking about retirement. He was completely enjoying his time walking his dogs and observing nature. It was encouraging to see that. I read today on NPR online that people are reconsidering whether retirement is very likely in this economy. My own highly developed retirement plan involves death. I’ve left instructions with the cleaning crew of my building as to how they should dispose of my remains. I think retirement is overrated. Many of the men I know who are retired struggle with what to do with their time and to retain a sense of purpose. On the other hand, I recall Parker Wilson. Parker retired from Sears and corporate life to devote the rest of his life to representing Central Americans fleeing civil wars. He mentored lots of young, passionate lawyers. When he died, he’d represented tens of thousands of refugees. He died with his boots on.

After leaving Frank, I cut across the large open field past and\ enormous old Bur Oak. I found the White Rock Bike Trail, which parallels the preserve, and followed it to the parking area. It was just getting to dusk. I finished off the water bottle, and headed for the house, eager for the next adventure.