Copperhead snake. Photo by Ben Sandifer

Nature & Environment

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

Let's be careful out there.

I turned 61 this weekend. What better way to celebrate than an epic hike with Ben Sandifer? Our plan was to hike past McCommas Bluff. I got up early, and, as is my habit, had a cup of coffee and read a Psalm. I drank my coffee from a new mug, a present from my great staff at Human Rights Initiative. It reads, “Bad Hombre,” a reference to an insult utilized by our current president and adapted as a compliment.

We met at the parking lot for the Trinity Trails, off of Dowdy Ferry and I-20. Scott was joined by his wife Jimmie, and Ben’s girlfriend Carrie was with him. My beautiful bride, Jill, was enjoying well-deserved sleep. She is a dyslexia teacher in Richardson ISD, in their impressive dyslexia program. She loves the work, but it is intense, so she is happy to sleep in on Saturdays.

We wanted to see Painted Buntings, so we took the new paved trail. We were rewarded quickly, seeing several of the beautiful birds, as well as Indigo Buntings. We walked over to McCommas Bluff and sat listening to the Trinity flowing powerfully below us. It is really a beautiful spot, marred only by the trash from illegal dumpers and the large rock gabions from city sewer work. Here the paved trail ends. We followed the easy-to-navigate dirt trail over toward Elam Creek. Ben wanted to explore a spot where he had seen a field of dormant wildflowers. It’s another advantage of his observation and patience that he notices things for us to explore months later. We followed a side trail and soon walked onto a meadow, knee deep in wildflowers. We later identified the showiest to be Common Primrose (Oenothera biennis).

There also were lots of large Swallowtail butterflies wafting around us. We simply stopped, enjoyed the sight, and returned to the main trail. We walked over and crossed Elam Creek, on a concrete culvert, which in heavy rains is impassable, joining the paved trail from Trinity River Audubon Center, and headed left to the bike/pedestrian bridge over the Trinity. We decided to sit for a bit and watch the river. Soon the rattle of a Belted Kingfisher pierced the quiet. We watched it soar and land on a snag. Then it took off and sailed toward us. We watched as it disappeared into its nest, a hole in the sandy bluff of the river. We all smiled. None of us had ever seen Kingfisher’s nest before, and we saw it because we took the time to sit and observe. Yea fatigue!

After we crossed the river, Ben noticed a butterfly perched on my shoulder as we walked. Later, Carrie exclaimed that she was “attacked” by another butterfly. That prompted some pretty funny discussion around whether it’s really possible to refer to a butterfly as an attacker.

We eventually turned around, making our way back to our cars. We returned along the shady dirt trail, which goes through deep woods. There are some old Burr Oaks and very old Bois d’arc trees in these woods. Scott and I walked together, as we have for about 35 years I’m a fortunate man. Scott is a friend you should value like precious gems. I know I could call on him for anything. Anytime. And we can be completely honest with one another. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from St. Augustine:

My true brothers are those who rejoice for me in their hearts when they find good in me and grieve for me when they find sin. They are my true brothers, because whether they see good in me or evil, they love me still. To such as these I shall reveal what I am.

As we walked, we talked politics. One of our many bonds is that we are both Christians and political liberals. Now, people talk about the Christian left, but that was unusual when we met in the Reagan years. Well, we got a little worked up as we walked, not watching where we were stepping. Scott grabbed my arm hard and yelled, “Watch!” He pointed to a coiled and ready-to-strike Copperhead in the middle of the trail. Our next step would have been on its head. And that would NOT have worked out well. It was hiding in tire track. I’m not going to say I squealed like a little girl. It was more like a high-pitched but very manly yell. That’s my story, anyway. We lingered, watched the snake, and then kept walking, leaving the snake to guard the trail.

I love these walks, especially with good friends like these. As I celebrate 61 years, I value my friendships more and more. My true friends are there for good and bad times. I need those friends to help me avoid the pitfalls of life, including the occasional Copperhead.