Ben and Carrie were doing the Christmas Bird Count, so I did a solo hike. When I walk alone, I almost always go to Spring Creek Nature Preserve, in Garland. It’s the closest place to hike on natural surface trails. I drove up Shiloh and parked off of Holford. (There are two parking areas. I favor the one on the east side.) The trail starts in the parking area. You can follow the paved trail to Garland Avenue if you like. However, I prefer to take the faint dirt trail that branches off and bisects a patch of native prairie. In the spring, it is covered with wildflowers, Missouri Primrose, Basketflower, Winecup, and Indian Paintbrush. The only color this time of year is the auburn colored Little Bluestem Grass, a native that covers the area, and the red berries of the Possum Haw Holly on the forest edge. The trails wander through the woods. Or you can walk on the paved trail to Garland Avenue. There, you can either cross the busy street, or there is a faint trail under the bridge that climbs up the hill to the natural trails, into the forest.
This trail follows the creek along wonderful white rock bluffs. Initially you walk through some Ashe Juniper and smaller trees before entering the forest. The trail crosses a sea of Inland Sea Oats, which is brown in the winter but still beautiful. I love hiking this trail many times a year, in different seasons. Over time, I’ve come to know its twists and turns and can follow its route even when the trail is obscured. Now it is faint in places because it’s covered in leaves. My steps were cushioned by the large lobed Bur Oak, saw toothed Chinquapin, and pointed edge of Red Oak leaves.
The forest experienced significant floods last year. As a result, large logs were swept onto the old route of the path. Over the last few months, I’ve trimmed some of the branches, and now the trail meanders around those downed logs, some of which weigh hundreds of pounds. The trail is marked by familiar landmarks: the hollowed-out tree trunk, the downed Red Oak covered in fungi, the Mexican Plum Tree, the large bluff in the bend of the creek, the old dead Chinquapin now covered in shelf fungus. These woods are as familiar to me as a good friend. I love walking in the woods in the winter. All the understory trees have lost their leaves, and it’s easier to see things. One of the last trees to lose its leaves is the Eastern Wahoo, also known as Burning Bush because of its beautiful red color. The bush is covered in red berries, so it’s one of the most colorful things you see. I noted their location so I can remember them when they turn green again this spring. I entered my favorite part of the forest, towering century old Bur Oaks. These woods are cool even in the summer because of the expansive shade. The Japanese have a word for this: shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. There are known therapeutic benefits to being in nature. This has been a stressful year, one of the busiest times of my entire professional life. So this time in nature is essential for me.
Walking a familiar trail, I couldn’t help but think of the perilous trails followed by people crossing our southern border. The caravan from the northern triangle of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala is often in the news. However, I’ve had many pro bono clients over the years who also braved that desert to come to the United States for refuge. I recalled my client from Eritrea, placed in an overseas shipping container for daring to read a Bible in public. She crossed that desert and swam the Rio Grande so that she could practice her faith freely. I thought of the little girl from Guatemala who recently died. Say her name out loud: Jakelin Caal Maquin. In my day pack is water, food, rain gear, and a first aid kit — and that’s what I carry if I’m hiking in Garland! I reflected about the desperation that drives that hard choice to walk days in a desert for a better life. I thought of it with gratitude that I’ll likely never have to face that choice.
I crossed a small creek on the 2-by-4 I found in the woods and placed there. I neared my favorite spot. In two months, this part of the forest will be covered in the blooms of the Trout Lily. The trail parallels the creek along a high bluff. I could hear the sound of the rapids of my resting spot before I could see it. I made my way carefully down the bank, noting the signs of active beavers who leave their signature teeth marks on the stripped limbs. I walked over and sat on a gravel/sand bar, the only sound that of rushing water. I took out my journal, made some notes, and read from by Advent reader Watch for the Light. The reading discusses death and how the people who fear death the least have opted to create a life that outlives them, by a life of service to others. I often think of legacy for some reason. This year I presented a eulogy for a good friend, Jim Donohoe, a lawyer. He was over 80 but died unexpectedly. He was a conservative Republican, and we had many really good-natured arguments about politics. He was never impatient or mean-spirited. I miss those talks.
I quoted David Brooks: “It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”
Quite literally, these are words to live by.
I made my way back toward the car. I took a short side trip to stand at a large bluff. Down below me I could see a natural spring seeping out of the sand and gravel. It was a special discovery and made me smile. No matter how often I tread this trail, and how familiar it is to me, it’s new every time.