I won’t lie. I’ve been pretty stressed. I had a vendor drop by the office unannounced the other day. She asked, “How’s it going?” I said, “These are stressful times.” She replied, “What’s going on?” I said, “Do you read newspapers? Do you have any idea what we do here?”
Last week I authored a commentary for the Dallas Morning News on another Trump administration policy change. As usual, I got nasty email. One said, “That’s why I’m not blaming you for your warped ‘opinion’ on basic state sovereignty rights mandated by the United Nations for 153 countries worldwide. I’m BLAMING your ‘parents’ who obviously failed.”
I don’t really mind mail like that. I mean if haters hate me, that’s OK with me. More than OK, actually.
All that is to say, I needed some time in the woods.
Ben Sandifer and I were not able to do our usual hike on Saturday because we were involved in a workshop of experts to discuss the viability of rewilding the Trinity River in the part of the river close to downtown [Ed: FrontBuner will have more on this workshop later]. Angela Hunt had enlisted our assistance. Ben and Park Board member Becky Rader did an extraordinary job of assembling a group of experts on birds, flora, fauna, water quality, navigating the river, and even archeology to examine the river and its environs and discuss whether rewilding was advisable. It was a very uplifting and energizing event. I guess I should be used to this, but I was clearly the stupidest person in the room. There was some noise that this was a meeting of “opponents” of the Trinity River Park, but that’s inaccurate. I can speak only for myself, but I’m not an opponent of a park on the Trinity. In fact, I’ve participated in a number of lectures and hikes for the Trinity Park Conservancy. I wish their planning well and am happy to lend a hand to the project.
I did manage to incorporate some walking as we led the gathered scientists and experts on a tour of the river. I saw quite a few birds, including Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, White Ibis, Blue Winged Teal, Scissortail Flycatchers, and a Kestrel. We toured the wetlands and remnant prairie located within the levees. Everyone expressed joy at what a real potential we have for a natural area within sight of downtown Dallas. Walking along the Trinity, you get a real idea of what is possible.
So I did my big walk on Sunday morning. I got up early and headed north to Spring Creek Forest. There are a couple of reasons I love this area. First, I hardly ever see anyone. Second, it’s a few miles of unpaved trails through deep woods.
I parked in the parking lot on Holford, shouldered my pack, and headed down the paved trail past Sumac and Possum Haw Holly. Soon, I was able to take the dirt trail, which traverses the native prairie. It’s full of blooming Grindelia lanceolate, Gumweed. It’s a showy yellow plant, and it fills the meadow this fall.
I headed over and under Garland Avenue and picked up the dirt trail. As I crossed the white rock escarpment part of the trail, I watched an Armadillo scurry across the path. Soon, I was walking through carpets of Inland Sea Oats, wet from this week’s rain. My pants were soaked to the knee. There’s little blooming in the middle of the forest at this point in the summer. I noticed that the Cedar Elms are just beginning to show a hint of fall color. I walked at a brisk pace, happy to spend some time in the woods. I stood on a bluff, looking upstream, and saw a pair of Wood Ducks swimming away. They are some of the prettiest waterfowl in our area, and I routinely see them on the creek here. There was water in the couple of intermittent streams that cross the trail, and there were large downed limbs from the high winds that we had recently. I crossed one of the streams and cut through a stand of towering Red Oaks that fills the forest.
After walking about 1.5 miles, I found my spot. My favorite spot in the forest is a gravel bar. After rains, it’s pretty muddy and difficult to make it down the bluff. A few months ago, I rigged up some old speaker wire to hold on to as I went down the steep banks. I felt it was a clever solution, until I testing it with my entire weight. The wire broke, and I did a flip as I fell. My pride was a bit bruised, as were other parts of my anatomy. At Ben’s suggestion, I bought some heavy-duty, but lightweight, parachute cord, and it served me much better. I tied off to a Hackberry Tree and down I went. The place I usually sit was actually underwater, so I sat in the damp sand on the bank. I pulled out my thermos of coffee and sat in the quiet.
My ritual includes reading a Psalm, writing in my journal, and then reading a book. Right now, I am reading Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love, a book about Franciscan spirituality. It turns out, there’s a lot more to St. Francis than bird feeders. I sat reading, with the only the music of rushing water close by. I would occasionally set my book down and just listen to the water, watching the light play off of the ripples as they passed over limestone.
I was startled by a loud rattle, as a pair of Kingfishers called, flying past me just a foot above the water. It put on huge smile on my face. I think I had my own private St. Francis moment.
I wasn’t able to linger, as I had a speaking event that morning. I was being interviewed by the pastors of Life in Deep Ellum, a church in Deep Ellum that supports Human Rights Initiative. We are so grateful for their support, which includes giving us a deal on the use of their facility for our annual fundraiser, Rock Your Heart Out on October 27.
So I packed up my books, strapped my trusty waking stick on my pack, and pulled myself step by step up the muddy bank, making my way back to the car, headed for a shower and necktie, but restored once again by the cathedral in the woods.