Tuesday, June 6, 2023 Jun 6, 2023
86° F Dallas, TX

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

Let's take a trip on the Swale Hike and remember Serena Connelly.
By Bill Holston |

We are nowhere close to being out of the woods with this pandemic, and our agency is continuing to practice remote work, as well as physical distancing. But while we are not out of the woods, I was in the mood to get into the woods!

My primary coping strategy to this stressful time is getting out and hiking. I’m fortunate that the thing I enjoy most is getting out in nature, which is about the easiest thing you can do to physically distance. Last Saturday, we headed down to a hike we call the Swale Hike. It’s not easy to find, but we can reliably see Painted and Indigo Buntings and sometimes migratory birds like Wood Storks. There were five of us, and we are very disciplined about distancing on the trail.

We parked on the parking lot on River Oak. It was a lovely cool overcast morning. We first saw a Mississippi Kite, which landed in one of the numerous Post Oaks in this part of the forest. As we headed into the forest, we saw a flash of red in the top of a tree. Ben quickly identified it as a Summer Tanager, which is a great bird and one that you don’t often see here.

We followed the paved trail as it paralleled Lemmon Lake. We made our way across one of the spots from which you can access the lake. In years past, we have seen literally thousands of migrating birds like Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, and White Ibis. But the dam to the lake blew out, and it doesn’t hold water as well. Still, you can’t know that’s there unless you check it out!

We walked across the wetlands, still wet from recent rains. We could hear multiple Painted and Indigo Buntings. But no shore birds this year. So we made our way back to the paved trail, followed it to where it takes a big left turn and eventually approaches the river. The river is high from the waters released in Lake Lewisville. It’s a beautiful spot. This is the spot where we head out on dirt trails to access the Swale, which is an excavated area that creates a rather large lake.

We made our way along the dirt trail. We heard and saw Indigo Buntings and the Dicksissels, which were obligingly perched on the tops of small trees. It was a pleasant walk because of the breezes and cloud cover. We eventually took a short, smaller trail over to where the Swale is. We stood on high ground and could see the Swale held water, but not many birds. One Great Egret was perched on the other shore. We then made our way along the higher ground and cut into the woods, which border an area that is one of the old channels of the Trinity River. We cut through the woods, which were beautiful and lush green with the native Virginia Wild Rye. In years past, we’d seen Wood Storks in these wetlands, but alas, not today. We stood in the shade of very large Box Elders and looked at the waters filling the old river channel. Ben remarked that we were in just about as remote of a place that we can get to in Dallas. It was beautiful, green, and quiet. We walked back into open country and paused to eat some ripe Mulberries on the trees along the forest edge, and then started walking back.

I walked quietly as I had a lot on my mind. We lost our co-founder, Serena Connelly. Serena was a much beloved individual. She and her sister Lisa ran the Simmons Foundation, which did much charitable work here. She died way too young, at 50, leaving a husband and two beautiful daughters. I met Serena in 1997. She was one of the founders of the Centers of Survivor of Torture and was using her influence to create something that continues today. She has an incredible legacy of projects she started and supported. But the thing I really loved about her was her humility. She was an immensely respected and influential person in our city, but she never exhibited ego, pride, or arrogance in any way. She was a genuinely humble person, and I really respected her. I miss her, as many do in our city. We were very gratified that she named Human Rights Initiative as a cause to contribute to in her memory. That is so like Serena and her family to think of how to give back, even now.

Of course, like all nonprofits, we are struggling to raise funds because many things are shut down. But one thing that’s not shut down are the efforts of this administration to attack our immigrant clients. We were really thankful to the community for North Texas Giving Day Now. Our neighbors really responded generously. Thank you!

We made our way back to the paved trail and then started back to our cars. Usually it is rare to see anyone on this trail, but we passed several families who were using the trail to walk or bike. Apparently quite a few people have read the articles in D Magazine discussing alternative places to get exercise. Someone told Ben that the parking lot at Goat Island was actually full. That’s great news, because it really is possible to spread out in these areas and not get within 10 feet of another person. And I’m very happy that other people are discovering all the different nature areas that we actually have here in Dallas. The more we explore and promote these areas, the more valuable they will be considered and consequently worth preserving.

I got back to the car. One of our hiking companions, Tony, works at St. John’s school. As a service project, they did a toiletry drive for our clients. I loaded up my car with all of the soap, shampoo, diapers, toilet paper, and paper towels and thanked them. As vulnerable as many of us feel, our clients are especially vulnerable. I spent most of the day Friday in our office, where my awesome social service director was distributing aid to clients. And this gift from families at a local school will help restock those shelves. I’m especially grateful for support of our agency at this time. I think it says a lot about you, if in a time of vulnerability, you think about others. That is what will get us through this thing. And of course physical distancing and masks and curbside delivery of beer.

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