Nature

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

A trip to Post Oak Preserve.

Driving east on 635, I decided Memphis sound was what I needed. As the sky turned pastel, the Hammond B3 organ of Booker T and the MGs started my day out fine. I love the Memphis Sound, because it reminds me of my youth, listening to AM stations blaring from my small transistor radio deep into the night, as I listened to clear channel stations like KAAY in Little Rock from my home in Alabama. And it reminds me that places like Stax Records were breaking down the rigid color lines of the Deep South, where I was born. Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Isaac Hayes were producing great music and challenging racial norms at the same time.

I was driving to meet Ben, Carrie, and Scott Hudson at Post Oak Preserve. It’s a great forest hike. We met in the parking lot, took last drinks of coffee, and started walking under the canopy of Post Oaks that gives the preserve its name. Our breath vaporized in the crisp fall air. We walked in sunlight filtered through the remaining leaves. (Post Oaks are the remnant large oaks in UpTown and surrounding my office off of Swiss Avenue. I was sad to see two beautiful old Post Oaks bulldozed to make way for the new Tom Thumb development on Live Oak.) The woods are still colorful in the fall. As we walked, the primary color we saw was the brilliant red berries of our native deciduous holly, the Possum Haw Holly. In addition, there were large patches of American Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americana), one of the prettiest fall plants.

We walked down the trail, toward a bluff overlooking a small pond. It was a perfect morning. A group of Wood Ducks flew across the pond in front of us. The pond was covered in mist in the cool morning air, and we stood, storing up the view in our memory banks for the stressful week ahead. Just this week, someone asked how I stayed sane (I was pleased at the assumption!), with what is going on at the border. I replied, “Nature. I try to get out in nature every weekend.” Every single week is filled with further attacks on asylum seekers. This week, the administration announced it will begin to charge fees to people fleeing for their lives. We will be among four countries in the world to do this. (Iran and Fiji do it, too.) At the same time, the administration announced changes to restrict asylum seekers from working while their cases are pending. Canada has recently been asked to review whether the United States remains a safe third country for asylum. And just this week the administration has begun plans to send asylum seekers to the jungles of Guatemala, which has inadequate resources to deal with these claims. It is quite depressing to watch as we gut the protections of asylum seekers. These harsh changes were recently detailed in a report by Senator Merkley of Oregon.

There are only two things that I know to do in response. The first is fight harder than ever. And the second is to get out into the woods, to restore my soul. Thanks, Ben, for helping me do the second! A couple of weeks ago, Ben reminded me we just had our eighth “Hikaversary.” Ben estimates we have hiked over 1,000 miles together in the Great Trinity Forest. It has been a great experience and critical to my mental health. Ben is a great hiking companion. He’s knowledgeable, experienced, and a great conversationalist. He’s also content to walk in quiet. Our paces are compatible. And neither of us complain. We’ve hiked in rain, floods, mud, snow, ice, and searing heat. But we have without fail had a fun adventure and hiked one end of the Trinity Forest to the other.

We walked along the misty pond and spied a native Persimmon Tree in the distance, laden with fruit. We managed to pick a few and sample them. Carrie had the best luck. They were ripe but tend to be very astringent. But it was fun. We eventually made our way up on top of the dam that contains the pond. Along the way, we watched a flock of Yellow Rumped Warblers, a very pretty winter bird. One of the birds appeared to be watching the Mustachioed Large-Rumped Lawyer, a colorful and slow-moving forest creature known for its mixed habitat of deep backwoods and breweries.

On the other side of the dam, we followed an old ranch road through thickets of Ashe Juniper. We all thought that this has the look of a pocket native prairie, as it is filled with native grasses and the seed heads of wildflowers. We saw Indian Grass and Switch Grass. This is the time of year that the beautiful Little Bluestem turns a nice auburn color. We were hoping to see some fall color. The Flame Sumac was already past color. The most recent cold front had knocked the leaves off. The area is filled with Post Oak and some of them were still colorful. The Red Oaks haven’t peaked yet. But the really wonderful discovery is that these woods are full of Hickory Trees (Carya spp). The leaves are similar to Pecans, which are in the same genus. They aren’t rare, but they are uncommon and indicative of old-growth forest. We picked up the Hickory nuts, which are pretty interesting. We made our way across this old native prairie, all the way across the property.

This is a remote part of the county, and we have run across nefarious activity more than once. Last winter we found a huge pot farm operation, which was past production. There were piles of the cannabis plant detritus under tarps. Or that’s what my friend Scott told me it was, as I had ZERO familiarity with this plant. I mean none. Really. OK, but it was a long time ago. This time we found a 1970s Corvette Stingray that had been completely stripped. Not even the VIN plate was left. The body was in good shape, so it appears that someone’s dream car was stolen.

We then made our way back to the pond, with the intention to circle back on the opposite end. This part of the walk, there is no trail, and we were just finding our way through dense thickets of Juniper, which is slow going. Circumnavigating the pond was a bit tricky, as as the streams that feed the pond crisscross the woods and can be filled with water and therefore difficult to cross. Luckily, we found a large downed tree and crossed the creek on it. We all walked across the trunk and into the beautiful fall color of a Eastern Wahoo or Burning Bush, which is covered in distinctive red fruit, and very pretty fall colors. We also found Rusty Black Haw Viburnum covered in its delicate purple fruit. This is very pretty bottomland forest, which has stands of Inland Sea Oats and Virginia wild rye, and the bright green of Cherokee Sedges. After we crossed the creek, we climbed up to higher ground and found the trial back to our cars.

Scott, Ben, and I took our time walking out. We could smell the lovely odor of leaf litter, which is such a wonderful sensory experience of a walk in fall woods. I think I’ve almost convinced Ben that fall is the best season. Spring has such showy displays of flowers, but fall is essential as the crisp days drive home the idea that we survived another scorcher of a summer. We love going to places in different seasons. Where we were picking up Hickory nuts, we will see Trout Lilies in February and later we’ll see Coral Root Orchids in the spring. Each season has its own distinctive wonders. Walking in the woods always accomplishes exactly what I need, what the Psalmist refers to as restoring a soul. Give it a try.

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