Nature & Environment

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

It's time for buckeyes, kids!

A Buckeye in bloom
A Buckeye in bloom

Spring is not my favorite season. It announces the coming hell that is Texas summer. Fall is my favorite season. It announces sweater weather and chiminea fires. That said, spring has its charms. I was ready for some time in the woods. Perhaps you have read that immigrants are under attack in this country. I can tell you that those of us who work fighting to pursue legal remedies for immigrants are busy and stressed. But we are as not as stressed as immigrants. So, do I have time for a walk in the woods? No, I do not, which is exactly why I go.

Saturday, Ben Sandifer, his girlfriend Carrie, and I hiked on one of my favorite local hikes, to the mouth of White Rock Creek and over to the grove of blooming Texas Buckeyes. We met at dawn at the trailhead, where Bexar ends at the levees. Our plan was to hike along the top of the levee, around Homer Simpson Lake, and down across country to where White Rock Creek enters the Trinity River, a spot not too many see. Yes, it is true, I drove my Chevy to the levee and the levee was dry. Sadly, however, these good old boys were not drinking whiskey and rye.

We parked and followed the trail to the top of the levee and walked along it to the east, watching the sun rise. There were a few ducks in the lake, and Carrie, a seasoned birder, pointed out the song of chickadees in the woods. There is a reason most people don’t do this hike, as there is no trail. Ben and I have done it multiple times, and even marked it with red flagging tape, but the floods take out our efforts to introduce order. So Ben uses his Google maps as we make our way across the woods. I love these woods, mostly because they have such a sense of isolation. And the payoff of seeing the buckeyes is well worth the effort.

We walked through woods that are mostly Ash, Elm, Bois d’arc, Ash Leaf Maple, Hackberry, Cottonwood, and an occasional towering Burr Oak. We crossed carpets of luxurious lush green native Wild Rye grasses. The native Swamp Privet had just started to bloom with delicate yellow flowers. Eventually we came to White Rock Creek, which was flowing nicely. We followed the creek to its mouth. There is a sandy peninsula at the mouth of the creek. The area had flooded, so there was thick Greenbriar, invasive Honeysuckle and downed trees. Thankfully, Ben had gloves and clippers and cut our way out to the peninsula. We sat on the sandy banks and watched the current of the river. It was remote and lovely.

Then we followed the river to the west, to where the Buckeye grove is. This is a beautiful hike, lush with the green of spring grasses, past occasional Bois d’arc fence posts, from when Jacob Metzger grazed his dairy cows here. Yes, Dallas has had the advantage of immigrants to this country for many years. Jacob Metzger was only 20 years old when he arrived in Dallas in 1875 and built a successful business here. We walked through lush carpets of Wild Rye, ideal as shady pasture.

I hope that Dallas was as welcoming to new immigrants as most of my friends are now. I live in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Casa View. My next door neighbor is a really hard-working guy. I see him playing soccer with his kids in the front yard after work. I wonder how he feels about the demonization of Mexicans that’s occurring here in the United States at the moment. It makes me sad to think about that. My colleagues at RAICES sold signs that read:

No Importa de Donde Eres
Estamos Contentos seas nuestro Vecino
It doesn’t matter where you are from
We’re glad you’re our neighbor

For me this is completely true, so I put one of these in my front yard last week. My neighbor on the other side told me she really liked the sign. She and her husband have lived next door to us for over 15 years. He originally migrated from Guatemala to Canada back in the ’80s during their civil war, back in another season when we were not welcoming to people fleeing chaos, eventually moving to Dallas. He has raised three beautiful children here. I told her I wanted people to know that some of our political leaders didn’t speak for me. Then we talked about the DMA exhibition “México 1900–1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde,” which we both really enjoyed. Mexican culture includes a very rich history in art. Particularly mural art, for which the Tres Grandes were known: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, all of whose art is featured in the DMA show.

Ben, Carrie, and I continued hiking west. We occasionally found strips of weathered flagging tape, but mostly there was no trail to follow, and we simply followed the course of the river west toward the Buckeyes. We saw a Great Horned Owl flying and later a Barred Owl. We were deep in the forest at this point and these apex predators were probably surprised to see us. Unfortunately we realized we were close to the Buckeyes because of the almost impenetrable band of invasive Japanese privet. Privet is an ornamental plant that is highly invasive. Master Naturalists have spent many hours removing privet, but it’s a losing battle. The privet chokes out native plants and spreads in thickets. We found a spot where someone had cleared a path through the privet, and we landed on the old Buckeye Trail. The trees were close to peak blooms. They are really beautiful trees, some over 30 feet tall and covered in elaborate blossoms. We watched bees and multiple large beautiful yellow Swallowtails feeding on the blossoms.

We took some photos and started walking back. The trail has been obstructed in several places by downed limbs, so it’s difficult to follow. We were all pretty familiar with the woods however and made our way back to the paved ADA-compliant trail and then over the levee and back to our cars. As I walked up to my car, I noticed a young mom and dad and kids getting ready for a hike. They asked if the Buckeyes were blooming and I said yes. I drew them a rudimentary map and told them to look out for poison ivy, because the mom was wearing shorts. It was really encouraging to see that a family was going to explore these woods.

Lately Angela Hunt has been leading a conversation about “re-wilding” the Trinity. I think mostly people disparage the Trinity. But when you are in places where nature has been permitted to take its course, you can see just how beautiful our local nature areas can be. I hope that this project gains momentum.

We finished our hike, and I headed out for errands. It had been a good day. The Psalmist once wrote, “He restoreth my soul.” A walk in the woods has that effect on me. Every time.