Photo by Ben Sandifer

Nature & Environment

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

Up an escarpment and into the Trinity Forest

Many years ago I began the practice of reading a Psalm every morning. I read it, journal, and start the day in a mindful way. Many people’s favorite Psalm is Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The Psalmist goes on to celebrate the idea that God “restores my soul.” My soul needs restoring a lot these days, because, you may have noticed, the world of human rights law, where I work, is pretty challenging. We’ve all been reading about the separation of children from their immigrant parents at the borders. And just this week Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a not unexpected move, took a shot at ending legal protection for immigrant women fleeing domestic violence. It’s heartbreaking stuff.

All this is to say that my soul was in really desperate need of a walk in the woods. Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” And, man, was I ready for a bath.

I met my merry band of hikers — Ben, Carrie, and Scott — at the ball diamond on Jim Miller Road. Our plan was to hike down the escarpment cross Bruton Road into some deep woods and explore. I love this walk for a lot of reasons. Primarily because the hike starts by climbing on top of the escarpment. It is like a walk in the Hill Country. We climb up through the Shin Oaks and Eastern Red Cedar and across a couple meadows, which still contain some blooming Prairie Clover and the dried blooms of the Purple Cone Flower. This is a great introductory hike for anyone wanting to explore the Trinity Forest. I hiked it for the first time with Rawlins Gilliland, who was kind enough to show this to me. He has explored these woods more than any living person.

We hiked over and across Bruton, dropping into the dense woods. We could hear Vireos calling in the distance. OK, I’m bragging. I don’t know what a Vireo sounds like, but Master Birders Carrie and Ben do! We eventually walked through carpets of Virginia Wild Rye, one of our native grasses. Our goal were some large ponds deep in the woods where we have seen Herons, Wood Storks, and even Roseate Spoonbills. As we neared the water, we walked through Sedges, the grass-like plants that indicate wetland. We made our way over to the ponds. We saw a few Snowy Egrets fly over, but the ponds were mostly devoid of birds. We stood there, drinking water and just enjoying the breeze off of the pond. All thoughts of injustice, family separation, and detention centers faded away in the blissful peace of the moment.

We decided to explore and see if we could do this hike as a loop. That meant we’d have to find a way to cross under the DART tracks that run across the eastern edge of the woods. We headed east and were stalled by a barbwire fence. We looked at Google Earth and determined we needed to head farther south. Finally we found a drainage pipe that provided a way to cross under the tracks. Scott had been here before, so we knew where we were. Ben’s height (he’s 6-foot-8) made it a bit challenging to navigate the 4-foot-wide pipe section. I think I was almost able to stand upright! I’m apparently descended from Hobbits. Just check out my feet.

We made it through and back on the escarpment, and then to the clear trail, which we knew we could follow all the way back to our cars. We stopped at the overlook past Bruton Road, finished our water, and talked about the hike. On the way out, we’d run across a group of three hikers. We pointed out to them that they could cross Bruton Road, head a few hundred feet east, and find a trail that is really easy to follow to double their hike mileage if they wanted. We always celebrate when we see others out on these trails. There is a lot to explore and enjoy. Just be prepared. Take plenty of water. Also, these woods are full of poison ivy, so long pants are really essential. I actually hike in a long-sleeve shirt as well. Because of mosquitos this time of year, we all use repellant.

We got back to our cars and headed into the rest of the weekend. Ben and Carrie were going over to Big Spring test water quality. I don’t know anyone who puts more energy into advocating and protecting our local natural resources. I’m proud to call Ben a friend. And I’m really thankful I have this intrepid group of urban explorers to walk in the woods with. Because I left refreshed, energized, and ready to return to the fight for justice. Like good friends, the woods will be there when I need them. They always are.