Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

It’s been awhile since our man Bill Holston sent us a dispatch from the wilds of Dallas. You missed him, didn’t you? He has still been hiking, but his new(ish) gig as the executive director of Human Rights Initiative of North Texas has kept him too busy to type about his adventures. In this installment, Bill hikes into the Trinity forest to watch the last sunrise of summer and winds up meeting some Burundian refugees looking to buy a goat.

The Sun Also Rises Over the Trinity Forest
By Bill Holston

I’ve hiked a lot these last few months. I love my new job. It’s energizing to work in a place where everyone is passionate about the mission of helping immigrant victims of crime, domestic abuse and persecution. I love hearing French, Spanish, and Amharic spoken around me. I love watching our pro-bono lawyers come in to meet clients, and share their joy when their hard work saves lives. I love being in a place where women escaping abusive marriages and kids escaping gang violence sit next to human rights activists from Africa. It’s exhilarating, actually. Still, hearing the stories of prison and torture, of domestic abuse and little kids escaping gang violence is really stressful. It recharges my batteries to spend some time exploring our nature trails. By connecting to nature, I find some real peace for my restless soul.

Fall is my favorite season of the year. So, a couple weekends ago, my friend Ben and I managed to see the last sunrise of Summer on a hike in the Trinity forest. Ben writes a great blog called Dallas Trinity Trails, where he chronicles his adventures. I’m impressed not just with the adventures he’s had, but the broad cross section of people he’s encountered. He’ll strike up conversation with African Americans fishing in the river or Mexican Vaqueros riding horses along dirt roads. He has no agenda other than exploring what we have in our city.

This time, we started with a hike by Lemmon Lake, off of Loop 12. We walked along the paved trail and watched Roseate Spoonbills in the lake, and a few Great Blue Herons. We moved on because Audubon members were doing a bird count. (I gave up counting Spoonbills after….a bunch.) So, we crossed over Loop 12 and hiked along the Wetland Cells. We spotted Wood Storks flying overhead. Wood Storks are a threatened species. A hundred years ago, more 150,000 wood storks nested in Florida. “The wood stork declined from some 20,000 pairs in the late 1930s to just 5,000 in the late 1970s because of draining and development of wetlands,” but they are recovering because of conservation efforts. It was a treat to watch them soar over. We hiked up to a rise, watching the sun rise and burn off the mist that gathered along the water. A Coyote sprinted across the trail in front of us. I loved the combination of coyotes, herons with the skyline of Dallas in the distance. Ben reminded me that very few people ever venture down here to explore, which is a real shame. We walked back to our cars and then over to a spot on the Trinity River. This is a fascinating spot. We’ve seen old Indian camps there, with animal bones, tools and the telltale signs of cooking fires. We even saw a bison skull once. It’s a great reminder of our historic past.

After exploring a bit, we drove over to meet Billy and Zada Pemberton, who once again let us cross their land to see the historic White Rock Spring, and hike over to lower White Rock Creek. I love these visits, in part because these are extraordinarily gracious folks. Billy greeted me with a warm abrazo, and Zada handed me some of her tasty Walnut Bread, made with the Walnuts of a century old Black Walnut Tree. Mr Pemberton raises goats. A car drove up and the African man inside asked about buying a goat. I directed him to Mr. Pemberton, as I’m unaware of the protocol of goat selling. Mr. Pemberton waived me over in a minute to talk to the couple, because it turned out they were Burundian refugees. We had a nice chat and they drove off.

I remembered my visit with some HRI clients shortly after taking this job. We had gone to see the FC Dallas Football game. On the way, we talked about their thoughts about the United States. All of the young men commented on their confusion about why Americans don’t eat much goat. I told them I sure liked Cabrito if I can find it. One of our challenges as an agency is finding good food options for our African clients. Our asylum clients are usually prohibited from working and it can take up to two years to go to trial. During that time they do not have access to any benefits, so they often have to utilize food pantries. They are accustomed to eating fresh fruits and vegetables, so they are less interested in canned food. It would be really great if some local community garden was interested in our clients participating, as they really are in a tough spot for food.

Ben had invited quite a crew, including Mr. MC Toyer, a local historian. We walked down to the Spring. It’s a delightful place. Mr. Toyer writes about the spring: “When Sam Houston and his party were en route to Birds Fort for the Treaty negotiations in July 1843 they camped at White Rock Springs on land claimed by John Beeman and were met there by the Beemans and other early Dallas settlers.”

Ben and I both walked down and drank from where these spring waters flow across gravel from the side of a wooded embankment. Just above us spread a Black Walnut tree bearing a spike driven to show the extent to floodwaters from the 1908 flood. It’s showing some wear from the drought, but there are lots of smaller young Walnuts springing up. We walked over to a huge Bur Oak, one of the largest I’ve ever seen. It’s not hard to see why Sam Houston would have chosen to camp here. It is a beautiful spot now, and must have been even prettier when surrounded by the grasses of the native blackland prairie. It’s now covered with the beautiful red of Ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii), one of the last of the years wildflowers to still show color.

This land is the seat of much Dallas history. The Bryans, Beemans and Pembertons all lived here at one time. Mr. Toyer did a great job of talking about our local pioneers. When these folks first arrived here, there were still bear, bison, and plentiful deer in the area.

We then crossed Bryan’s slough to follow old roads to where White Rock Creek flows down to the Trinity River. We saw birds fly over that I couldn’t identify. One of the people in our party was the writer of DFW Urban Wildlife. He later identified one of them as an Osprey (Pandion haliaetu). What a treat that was. We made our way toward White Rock Creek, along the right of way for a power line. We reached the creek where there is a lovely old big native pecan, where we took a water break. There’s a spot on the creek here with large boulders, and it would be possible to cross the creek here and follow it down to where White Rock Creek enters the Trinity River. There is a trail that eventually leads to the Buckeye Grove, although I haven’t been on that trail in months, and the Forest has a way of swallowing these trails back.

There’s been so much talk about our Forest and parks and what we should be doing. My two cents is that with a small amount of infrastructure, these areas could be enjoyed by many. I confess that I have mixed emotions about that. That spring, for instance, is a truly astonishingly beautiful spot. It’s been left alone for hundreds of years and is not degraded. As much as I’d like to share it, I fear too much access would be its ruin. Access should always be restricted to some sort of private tour, much like Westcave Preserve in Austin. This way people could see the spot but would reduce the chances of damage. Mr. Pemberton would like to see classes taught there on the early Pioneer methods, as well as about the early Native American presence. That would be a good idea. Sadly, we have very little connection to our historic past here. Special spots like this are great examples that Dallas has both history and nature. It’s simply that we as citizens don’t pay a lot of attention to either.

This day, thanks to Ben and Mr. and Mrs. Pemberton, I was able to get those batteries recharged and get back to the business of helping refugees. Thanks.


  • D

    Well I would pay a good sum to take my family on that exact tour. And where can one find some good Cabrito? I think I have had it before but would like to try it again..

  • bill h

    D, sounds like a good idea for an HRI fundraiser!