Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

Virginia Wild Rye  in Garland's Spring Creek Forest
Virginia Wild Rye in Garland’s Spring Creek Forest

Sunday morning dawned clear and cool. I packed my day pack with a thermos of coffee and headed up to Spring Creek Nature Preserve in Garland. Jill and I had afternoon plans, which prevented us from attending church, so that freed time to hike early on Palm Sunday.

The sun was out as I hit the parking lot on Holford. I was happy to have worn a fleece, as the morning air was still cool. I walked down the paved trail and then cut across the dirt trail to the right that bisects the remnant prairie. The prairie is covered in Little Blue Stem Grasses, which are not quite green yet. Later this meadow will be filled with Missouri Primrose, Foxglove, and Indian Paintbrush. As I descended the hill through the Ashe Juniper and Red Oak Forest, I could see the leaves of the Trout Lilies, which were past blooming. There was a bumper crop of Trout Lilies this year in late February through early March. They are the first wild flowers to bloom and are a real treat. I’ve watched them in snow in past colder years.

I cut left and rejoined the paved trail and followed it all the way to Garland Avenue. There a slight trail goes under the bridge. On the other side, you have to look carefully to find the dirt trail that ascends back to the top of the white rock escarpment, and the great trail which leads into this special forest. This remains one of my favorite spots to hike. This is a rare hardwood forest of very mature oak. Chinquapin Oaks grow next to Texas Red Oaks as well as massive Bur Oaks. Also the woods contain native Pecan and Walnut. These are  towering trees, and I feel like I’m in a Garden of the Giants as I pass beneath them.

As I neared the creek, I heard some Wood Ducks call as they flew away. I then followed the trail as it wound away from the creek. This is my favorite part of the hike. I didn’t see a soul for the next two hours. The trail is initially easy to follow, and it crosses a couple of small intermittent creeks. The first creek can be hard to cross after heavy rains, and hikers sometimes lay logs across, which test my 59-year-old legs and ability to balance. When you cross the second small stream, it can be difficult to follow the trail, but it is worth the effort. There is a very slight trace of a trail to the right, climbing a small hill. The trail can be followed and eventually someone has marked the trail with yellow flagging tape. This trail ends at a spot of more recent growth woods of Cedar Elm and Ash. There are a number of spots where you can walk down to the creek and dip your toes in the clear waters. There are quite a few small rapids, which produce a lovely sound for the hiker. This entire area was inundated with fall floods, so the trails have been obliterated at this spot. However, the woods have recovered nicely from the floods, and I picked my way through tall, native Virginia Wild Rye, which are a brilliant green this time of year. When the trail finally disappears, it is possible to basically just follow Spring Creek. The woods are also filled with blooming Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum and it’s showy white blossoms. The bright green of the grasses is punctuated with the bright yellow of the Texas Groundsel.

This is a wonderful spot to explore, because of the beautiful carpet of native grasses. The last few times I’ve hiked in these woods, I’ve spotted a pair of Red Shouldered Hawks, which loudly protest (celebrate?) my intrusion in their turf. I followed the creek to where the preserve ends, into a power line right of way, across from Brand Road. This is my typical destination and creates a path of about a 3-mile round trip. I sit up on a bluff and have a Cliff bar along with my thermos of coffee. I pull out my journal and Psalms and just sit in the quiet of the woods, the only sound the wind in the trees above me. I read:

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.”

Being still and waiting do not come easily for me, but here in this quiet place, it seems as if it might be achievable. I sit in the quiet, and just let my thoughts cease. I finish the last of the coffee and decide to walk back. I take my time, pausing often to take in the beauty of this beautiful wood and the light filtering through the new growth of green leaves in the canopy of trees.

I need mornings like this. You may have noticed the nonstop assault on migrants that is happening with some of our political leadership. It’s discouraging to realize just how far from our country’s values some people have wandered. I addressed a group of Burundian immigrants last weekend. Sadly, I felt it necessary to reassure them that our zenophobic politicians do not speak for me, or in fact for anyone I know. So, as I cope with the hateful rhetoric, it’s all the more important to find space for quiet, for reflection, and for renewal. That’s what time in the woods means for me. I walked back renewed and refreshed, ready for another week of battle.