Photo of White Rock Creek by Elisabeth Gillette

Nature & Environment

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

A stress-reliever at the end of a good week

Last week was a great one for me. I was honored by the Dallas Bar Association with the Martin Luther King Jr. Award. In my acceptance speech, I said this about the award:

It is particularly gratifying to me to be given an award named in honor of Dr. King. You see, I was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1956, in the middle of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Now Dr. King is an icon, but when and where I grew up and in my home, he was a pariah. When my mother saw me reading MLK’s Why We Can’t Wait, she said, “Why would you read that? He was a Communist.” And my mother was a teacher and an educated person.

So it was gratifying for a white Alabama boy like me to receive an award named after this civil rights leader. I got to give a speech to the Bar and urge people to do more in the fight for justice. I was thrilled to have a lot of friends there. And my sons. It had been a while since a man as fashionable as Fred Holston was at the Belo Mansion.

But public events where I must greet people are stressful for an introvert like me. So I was looking forward to a walk on dirt trails. Ben suggested this would be a good weekend for my favorite hike in the area, where White Rock Creek enters the Trinity River.

It was a flawless, cold morning in the 40s and no wind. The trail starts where Bexar dead ends into the Trinity River Levee in the Bonton neighborhood. We parked our cars by the new Bonton Farm Cafe and climbed up the levee. You get a nice glimpse of the Dallas skyline from here, and it’s a fun place to explore. The best way to approach White Rock Creek is to hike the levee to a small lake called Homer Simpson Lake. I suppose the name is ironic, as it is a long way to a donut shop.

There were some Mallards and Hooded Mergansers in the ponds. One of the groves of trees was filled with a huge flock of Goldfinches. There’s not really a trail, but you follow along the edge of the ponds to the farthest southern edge, then head through the woods toward the creek. We have done this trail several times before, so we know generally where to enter the forest and hike toward the river. Years ago there was some old flagging tape, but it has long since disappeared because of exposure to the elements.

I love these woods. It’s all second growth Ash, Hackberry, and an occasional Bois D’Arc. We’ve hiked this in all sorts of weather. This entire area gets inundated in floods. Once, with Jeff Whittington along, we hiked through hundreds of feet of mud. Other times, we’ve crossed icy patches. But because it had been a bit since it had rained, the forest floor was mostly dry. It seems flat, but you can see the roll of the river bottom because of the ponds and intermittent streams. The woods are carpeted in Winter Wild Rye, which is why this area once served as pasture for Jacob Metzger’s dairy cows.

It’s advisable to bear to the west to stay away for White Rock Creek. The nearer you get to the creek, the more Greenbriar or other thorny plants will eat your clothes. Ben teases me about my hiking attire. I tend to wear old work clothes, suit pants that have shiny patches and khakis with rips. But I don’t mind so much if I have to throw them away at the end of a couple Ben Hikes.

We stopped at one spot and looked upstream at White Rock Creek. I heard, and Ben saw, a flock of Wood Ducks taking off. Earlier we’d flushed a Woodcock, a rare bird in these parts. We mostly paralleled White Rock Creek, headed to where it enters the river. The end of this trail is the roughest part of the hike. The end is a peninsula that gets flooded and is covered in thorny vines. I brought a machete to hack my way through, but it had fallen out somewhere in the woods. (It’s yours if you can find it!) I just used my oak walking stick to hack through the thorns. I used to dread thorny legal issues, but actual thorns are a good bit more painful.

We walked out to the end and took a break. I love this spot, mostly because I like seeing a place that I bet no more than 15 people in our city have ever walked to. It’s a beautiful spot. We sat and heard the loud piercing call of a Pileated Woodpecker, one of the best, wildest sounds in our area.

After a break, we continued our return route. It’s possible to make this a circuit hike by hiking parallel to the Trinity back to the Buckeye Grove. It’s pretty easy walking through the woods. There are large swaths of Cold Weather Rye grasses and circular patches of Sedge in the lower spots. The most difficult spot of the return is finding the path we cut through the invasive Privet, which runs in a large band just beside the Buckeye Grove. We found the spot and cut back to the dirt trail that we’d follow back to our cars. We spent some time looking at the Buckeyes and marking some of them. They will bloom in March. Ben and I discussed leading a hike here in the spring to see them. Keep watching. If you are one of the dozens of people who say, “Invite me on a hike,” here’s your chance. It’s the best intro to the Trinity Forest.

It was great to get a nice long hike in. My oldest hiking buddies were all in Big Bend climbing Casa Grande. I was unable to go this year because I needed to attend our board meeting at work. It was an important board meeting. I needed to describe the most recent assault on immigrant rights. This week it was the unprecedented and illegal decision to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico. Yes, we, the supposedly richest, greatest country in the world, are relying on Mexico to provide humanitarian relief to asylum seekers because we can’t. Shameful.

It’s stress like this that sends me into the woods, where all I have to think about is how to not fall into a creek.

I was successful at that at least.

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