Swamp hibiscus photo by Ben Sandifer

Nature & Environment

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

A jaunt to Spring Creek Forest after a heavy rain and a wife to share the story with.

I woke up Sunday morning to the sound of rain. I’d hiked in the rain on Saturday with Ben and our young friend Alexander. We started and ended the hike at Big Spring and made our way to the wetlands that are close to Rochester Park. We saw Great Egrets, Blue Herons, and White Ibis. We hiked in a refreshing lite rain, and it was quite pleasant. But this was raining hard enough that I thought it made sense to wait a bit, so I fixed a pot of coffee and sat on my front porch, reading a psalm and having my “old dude” bowl of oatmeal and blueberries. I read Psalm 65, quite appropriate for the day.

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.
You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.

I pulled out my journal. I had a lot on my mind to write about. It was our 35th wedding anniversary. I reflected on what a great stage of life this is for us. We are both in our 60s. Jill had come through breast cancer, and we had no real health issues. Jill is my best friend. We enjoy each other’s company. She makes me laugh and shares my outrage at what is going on in our country. If you sit next to us in a brewery, you are going to hear some lively political commentary — and profanity. So, fair warning.

I was also reflecting on all the things that happened last week in the immigration world. The administration announced a policy of requiring people to apply for asylum in Guatemala. I mentioned this to my next-door neighbor who was a political refugee from Guatemala in the ’80s during the civil war. He and I discussed why this was a completely unfeasible idea, because of Guatemala’s lack of resources to handle these refugee claims. The administration had already endangered lives by the ironically named Migrant Protection Protocols, which require asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their trial. All of these things result in death. I’ve been doing this work for 30 years, and it has always been hard. I’ve been critical of every administration. However, the present assault on the rights of immigrants is unprecedented and dangerous.

I finished journaling and wanted to check weather radar, so I went inside to get my phone. The first thing to pop up was the news about the El Paso Shooting. Our wifi had been down, and I hadn’t looked at my phone, so I’d missed the story the day it happened. I read the headlines and let it soak in. A white terrorist had targeted Latinx people shopping for back-to-school supplies. A young white terrorist from Collin County. I posted something quick on Facebook. I wanted my Latinx siblings to know my heart breaks for us. Then I headed to the forest.

I drove up to Spring Creek Forest, put on my hiking shoes, which were still wet from Saturday’s hike. I started down the trail and crossed over the pocket prairie. The prairie had been filled with Basket Flower, Indian Paintbrush, and Wine Cup this spring. Now the purple of Liatris covers parts of the prairie. I saw a bird with a flash of color. I grabbed my binoculars and spotted a male Painted Bunting perched on the ground. It’s the most colorful bird of our region, and I always get a kick out of seeing them. It perched in a low bush, so I was able to watch it for a long time. Eventually it flew off, and I headed down the path.

I followed a dirt trail through the woods and then returned to a short paved path and crossed Garland Avenue. I followed the new paved bike path for a bit, to see how it looked. It’s a nice trail along the side of the forest. It started misting, which kept things relatively cool. I said out loud, “This is just what the doctor ordered.”

After about a mile, I cut across another prairie to re-enter the forest. I crossed a small intermittent stream on some stepping stones planted as an Eagle Scout Project. I walked under towering Red Oaks, Bur Oaks, and Chinqapin Oaks. I made my way to my Sunday morning spot, a gravel bar at the bottom of a bluff. I walked down the side of the bluff, angling my way, as it is pretty steep. The water was rushing but was surprisingly clear. I found the sandy spot where I usually sit. I was hot from my walk and decided to cool off in the creek. I put on my swimsuit and my hiking sandals. I waded into the water, which was calf deep and running fast and clear. This spot is particularly inviting, as the water runs over limestone. It has a real Hill Country feel. I walked over to a place where the rock is grooved and forms a nice rapid. I sat down, and then laid back, letting the cool water flow over me. The current was fast enough to push me along a bit. It is perhaps the thing I miss most living here. I love cooling off in natural bodies of water. I grew up in Alabama and swam in rivers, creeks, lakes, lagoons, and the Gulf growing up. It is a real treat to get a chance to do that here. I stood up and waded the creek, eventually sitting on a large, flat rock the current had pushed to this spot. I sat feeling the cool breeze and listening to the sound of the water flowing by. I was completely relaxed and restored.

The author gets wet.

I walked over and sat on the gravel bar. I took out my nature journal and started writing about what I’d seen that day. It was a blissful moment. I noticed that the two plastic water bottles (Quit using them!) I had picked up to carry out were floating. That was surprising. I looked behind me and water was started to creep under the driftwood log that was poking out of the sand next to me. Being a highly trained lawyer, I quickly deduced the water was rising! I decided this might not be the best place to hang out. By the time I decided to move, water was already beginning to cover the sand and soaking my stuff. I threw my pack up on the driftwood log and stuffed my phone, wallet, and pants in. I zipped it up and started toward shore, carrying my shoes and socks. I walked over to a spot where could climb up easily. The water was no longer clear, and it was running much faster. I used my oak walking stick to keep my balance and climbed out and up the bluff. I sat at the top looking down and the entire gravel bar was now under water.

I changed out of my swimsuit, put on my wet pants and shirt, and started walking out of the forest. I saw large pieces of fallen timber floating down the creek. I climbed over places where newly fallen limbs blocked the trail. As I walked out, I thought about the flash flood I’d just experienced. It’s one of the things I love about natural spaces like Spring Creek Forest. I was walking about half a mile from a paved street, but it’s still a wild place, filled with surprises and even risk. I’d been here in flood events before, once hiking with the creek covering parts of the trail, which meant it had risen 25 feet or more. However, I’d never been here when the water had risen that rapidly.

These woods are familiar. I know every turn in that trail, like where to look for the Mexican Plum Tree that bears fruit right now. But familiarity should not breed complacence. My relationship with Jill is familiar. Later that Sunday, we drove over to Lakewood Brewing Company. We sat outside. She enjoyed the newly released Peanut Butter Temptress. As is her habit, she sat and read the newspaper, pausing to read passages she enjoyed out loud. She read the story about the El Paso shooter and asked, “What is wrong with people?” As it happened, there was also commentary in the paper on a married couple. Through tears she read:

“My husband and I are now in our late 60s. Without warning, we have stumbled into a stage of life when we are just grateful for a day without burning, tingling, or numbness. I know plenty of obstacles are ahead, but somehow we’ve miraculously managed to avoid being one of those couples who go out to dinner together but have nothing to say.”

We finished our beers and headed home. Another familiar but refreshing time in our never-ending conversation.

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