As Zac mentioned earlier, our friend Bill Holston has himself a new gig. Owing to that change, this will be his last “Law Man Walking” for a while or possibly ever (though you might keep your eyes on the magazine in the coming months). In this installment, he explains why Bart Simpson Lake is called Bart Simpson Lake, and he reflects on leaving behind 30 years of practicing law.
By Bill Holston
Last weekend, my friend Ben and I returned to the Trinity Forest. We’ve been wanting to see the mouth of White Rock Creek from the east side. Several weeks ago, we hiked over from Sam Houston’s Spring off of Pemberton Hills Road to the place where White Rock Creek empties into the Trinity. It was a grand walk and adventure. It was cool to sit in a place in Dallas that is miles from pavement. I’m happy that Ben has spurred me to explore off of beaten paths for some of our less accessible areas. I was happy that my hiking buddy Scott Hudson joined us for this exploration. It turned into a fun adventure.
We parked at the trailhead of the Buckeye Trail off of Bexar. We ascended the Trinity Levee and started walking to the east. The levees here were constructed as a response to a 1989 flood. The neighborhood once housed Turner Courts, a housing project that was demolished in 2009. According to the city, the project was severely distressed and required demolition. The area will be rebuilt with the Buckeye Trail Commons, which will hopefully be a more successful venture in affordable housing. It will be close to some of the nicest hiking in our area.
We walked down the levee, and descended in the direction of Bart Simpson Lake, named as its perimeter has the profile of the audacious youngster. It’s a cool hike along the top of the levee, with great views of downtown, as well as the Great Trinity Forest stretching out to the South. We walked along the perimeter of the lake. The smaller lakes in the area are mostly dry, as a result of our continuing drought. At the end of Bart Simpson Lake, we headed through woods in the general direction of White Rock Creek, which is basically due southeast. There were hints of a trail, which was apparently constructed by Groundwork Dallas, and there was occasional surveyors tape marking the route. This isn’t really an identifiable trail, though. After about twenty or thirty minutes, we reached White Rock Creek, basically where Bryan’s Slough enters it. The woods are mostly cedar elm, with some ash and bois d’arc. We followed the creek toward the Trinity. The Creek meanders along, and we’d occasionally bear to the west, to skirt the dense thickets of briars. We remarked several times about what it must have been like for early settlers to try to penetrate these dense thickets of thorns and brambles. The Creek wouldn’t have been easy to cross, either, as it has steep muddy banks, and an apparently soft bottom. We could see through the winter thinned woods that we were nearing the river. The most difficult spot were the dense thicket of brambles close to the River. I used my Easter Red Cedar walking stick to knock aside some of the thorns. Ben wisely had a machete.
It felt pretty adventuresome, honestly. Eventually we were standing on a sand bluff overlooking the spot where White Rock Creek flows into the Trinity. We heard the rattle of a Belted Kingfisher, which we watched soar down the creek and land on a snag in the River. Some Mallards flew over as well. We stood, drank some water, and took in the sight of the river, in the sunlight, filtered by cloud cover. We then headed back through the thicket. We’d noticed a side trail and found that there’s a very clear, flagged trail which headed in the direction of Buckeye Trail. This was a very pretty walk. The woods are open and savannah-like, and there’s thick carpets of Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and Virginia Wild Rye , (Elymus virginicus) a cool weather grass that covered the forest floor in green. It’s easy to see why Jacob Metzger used this area as pasture for his dairy cows. Metzger was a Swiss immigrant to the area in 1875. We walked past several towering Bur Oaks (Quercos Macrocarpa) which stand in contrast to most of the smaller trees in this part of the forest. The Bur Oaks must have been spared the ax, as they are giants in this area of the forest. We followed the trail past the Buckeye Grove. It was gratifying to see the places where we’d cut the invasive Privit, and where there are large stands of our native Buckeyes (Aesculus glabra var. arguta) , which make for beautiful blooms in the Spring. Finally, we walked past the brilliant red leaves of our Eastern Wahoo Tree (Euonymus atropurpurea), with its brilliant red fruit. We made a short side trip over to a Trinity River overlook and the spot of Miller’s Crossing.
It was fun to have a physical challenge, in contrast to a more real life challenge. I’m pursuing one of the biggest changes of my life right now. For thirty years, I’ve practiced law, and for the last 25 years, I’ve been in the same law firm. It’s a great place. We like to say that we take the practice of law very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s the only kind of place I could have practiced law for 25 years running. We’ve done all sorts of things here: multiple jury trials and successful appeals to courts of appeals. We’ve handled million-dollar real estate and business deals. My passion, however, has been that for the last 20 years I’ve been handling pro bono asylum cases for people fleeing torture and prison, because of their political opinion and religious belief. It is the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done in my life. Ask yourself what it’s like to have a client say, “I know what you did for me, you gave me my life.” Yeah, humbling. Very humbling. Not once — not once — have my partners ever complained about the expenditure of non-billable time. For the last ten years I’ve taken these cases from Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, one of the finest human rights organizations in America. The position for executive director opened. My hero Betsy Healy has been acting as interim director. My wife and I discussed it and I decided to apply for the position. I’m thrilled that they just offered me the job. It is, of course, a financial sacrifice for my wife and me, but it is, I believe, my life’s calling. If you are interested in why I might leave 30 years of law practice, you’ll find a clue here. It’s an amazing gift to be able to pursue work that I believe in my heart I was made to do. I am an astonishingly lucky man to be married to a wife that supports me in this.
Oh, next time you see me, I’m probably going to ask you for money. Just a warning! Hey, if you want to say thanks for these months of Law Man Walking, drop a check to these folks.
I’m sad to leave my comrades at my law firm. G. Dennis Sullivan is one of the best lawyers in this city. When I joined him in 1985, I was somewhat of a feral lawyer. I’d tried multiple jury trials, but I had never had anyone take a red pen to my writing. He made me a better lawyer. And watching him, with his wife and his children, made me a better man.
So this is very likely the last Law Man Walking. I’ve enjoyed doing this, and, if Tim permits, I may submit a piece or two, time permitting. And so, happy trails. Thanks for reading.