That was an odd Fourth of July. First, like many people who are fighting for justice, I found it hard to celebrate our country right now. I thought this video of the direct descendants of Frederick Douglass reading his famous July 5 speech was powerful and closer to my own feelings this year.
I did a hike on the Fourth and watched the illegal fireworks shot off all over my Casa View neighborhood. And I grilled some chicken. At HRI we have always run a Fourth of July fundraiser. This year the letter brought attention to the effort to end police violence against our Black siblings. My mind was on the asylum seekers stuck in COVID-filled detention centers and the pending regulations to undermine asylum. Perhaps you’d like to join us in adding your comments to why you think this is awful.
I returned to work yesterday and started the day with a hike. I’ve continued the ritual of getting up early, heading to the Trinity River Audubon Center, and walking the concrete AT&T Trail. Rain was in the forecast, so I checked the radar and it looked like I had about 45 minutes to do the walk. I got to the trailhead before 6. I didn’t stay long because it looked like the rain would start soon. On my hike out, I saw a young bobcat cross the path in front of me. It saw me and lay down on the trail for a few seconds before heading off into the brush. As I did my walk, I broadcast a short Facebook Live. Ben Sandifer was watching and told me big rains were headed my way, so I sped up my pace and got to the car just as it started sprinkling. Within five minutes, I was driving in a heavy downpour.
So I decided to try my luck again this morning. Rain was forecast again, so I watched the sky carefully. I again got to trailhead a little before 6. An almost full moon was shining through the clouds, and it was beautiful. I could hear Painted Bunting’s song, but it was too dark to see them. I looked up and saw some White Ibis flying over. For the last week, I’ve watched a group of six or seven fly over at about the same time every morning. There were flashes of lightning in the thunderheads in the distance, so I didn’t linger. I made my way to the bridge over the Trinity. There is a low spot on the trail that often holds water, but there’s a clear path to the right where you can walk on dry ground, which I did. It wasn’t raining and the clouds didn’t look like rain was imminent, so I sat and read a Psalm and wrote in my journal. Then I started walking back.
I could see a small bird up ahead. Through my binoculars I saw that it was a male Painted Bunting. Then I spotted a female on the grass next to him. I watched them repeatedly fly back and forth toward each other before flying off. It was some sort of mating ritual. It was the Bunting equivalent of me buying a bottle of Mark West Pinot Noir and bringing home some cool earrings from one of the stands at the Farmers Market.
In a few minutes, I heard the motor of a four wheeler. Tracy, who tends the methane flares, was coming up behind me. I’ve gotten to know him in the last weeks, walking out there. He’s a great guy. He asked me if I got soaked yesterday. I said, no, I made it back to the car in time. He said he’d seen me walk in, but didn’t see me when I walked out, so he got in the four wheeler and drove the trail to make sure I didn’t need a ride back to my car. It felt great to know this man took the time to see that I was safe. We need more of that in this world right now. We chatted for a bit, and he told me that he turned 60 on Father’s Day and that his three kids surprised him with a scrapbook filled with notes from friends of his over the years. It was a really touching story. And I could tell he was the kind of dad whose kids were happy to do something like that for him. We laughed about how at this age we don’t need anything, really. I told him for my birthday this year, my oldest son, Will, wrote a note to my staff and made a donation.
He wrote this: “My dad has always been the hardest person in the world to buy gifts for. He never wants anything. But once he took over as Executive Director of HRI, it made buying him presents incredibly easy. I know there is no gift I can give him that would mean more to him than showing appreciation to the hardworking and dedicated staff of HRI. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Every birthday and Christmas, I have fun trying to come up with the small tokens of appreciation I can give to you all. He always talks about you all with glowing terms. I know he thinks the world of all of you.” That meant a lot to me, still does. I’m proud of my kids.
I finished up our talk and started walking back. I passed an older man walking in. We exchanged good mornings. He asked if I’d seen many birds. I told him I’d been watching a Painted Bunting in the treetop right by us. I explained those were the small red birds he might have seen. He smiled and said, “Like a rainbow flying.” I said yes that’s it. He said, “I guess I need to start looking at birds.” I told him my name, and he told me his name was Ford. I walked back to the car and felt better knowing Ford was out there looking for birds that he’d just learned the names of and that if he got into any trouble, there was a good man on a four wheeler that would help him out. Good to know.