The author on an isthmus Photo by Ben Sandifer

Nature & Environment

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

An osprey sighting over the Trinity River

I pulled onto 635. It was one of those flawless December mornings. It was a brisk morning but with little wind. It was just cold enough for a sweatshirt. I poured some coffee and hit the inside lane so I could exit on westbound 175. The blazing guitar of Gary Clark Jr. worked with the coffee in tag team to bring me fully awake.

Ben, Scott, and I met at Big Spring. Our goal was to walk to where White Rock Creek enters the Trinity (Arkikosa) River. We met before dawn in the small parking area off of Pemberton Hill Road.

We started off through an old pasture, noticing all of the native grasses and trees that Ben and other Master Naturalists have planted there. We walked past an ancient Walnut that bears a railroad spike in its trunk, which legend claims marked the waters of the 1942 Dallas flood. We could hear the water flowing through a pipe, coursing from this natural spring.

We continued down the old road, through a grove of Cedar Elms, before crossing Bryan’s Slough (named after John Neely Bryan, who lived here with his wife after the Civil War). We’ve done this hike many times and now there are only a couple spots where we are not quite sure how to navigate the heavy brush like the ever present Ragweed. We made our way across another large former pasture and skirted the edge of grove of Cedar Elms, angling to a low water crossing of Bryan’s slough. As we walked down to the water, we could see that it had formed a small pond, and as we crossed we found an elaborately constructed beaver dam. We paused to admire the workmanship and then cut over to take the Holland Trail.

This is a well-made trail that was built in honor of veteran Lt. Col. Daniel Holland, DVM, killed in the Iraq War. We followed the trail counterclockwise. The woods are mostly Cedar Elm with some Texas Ash, Bois D’arc, Swamp Privet, and Possum Haw Holly. The forest floor is filled with Virginia Wild Rye, which will grow long and brilliant green the early spring. The trail parallels Bryan’s Slough, and we decided to try to see where it enters White Rock Creek.

We started across country and soon encountered higher ground. The topography of the land was created by the seasons of flooding that regularly occur down here in this White Rock Creek bottomland. We walked up a rise and could see where the slough entered White Rock Creek. We decided to walk down and along the slough. The descent was not steep, but it was slippery from the week’s rain. My foot caught on a root, and I fell. Or, as Ben put it, did “a complete tumple.” Humbled by the terrain, I stood and made my way down. We walked along the narrow edge of an isthmus and stood where the waters of Big Spring enter White Rock Creek, eventually emptying into the Trinity River and the Gulf of Mexico.

We savored the thought that probably no more than 10 people had stood here for many decades. We followed the trail to where White Rock enters the Trinity. We were able to follow some cuts in the banks to walk down to the creek edge. Again, it is gratifying to find and enjoy these remote spaces. This is about as remote as it is possible to be in the city limits of Dallas. We stood and enjoyed the quiet, and noticed a feeding flock of birds. We watched an Eastern Towhee along the creek and then watched a male and female Yellow Bellied Sapsucker.

From there we headed over to what we call the Drained Pond, a lovely pond that used to house lots of active Beavers until city of Dallas workers drained it. It is beautiful again, thanks to the efforts of Ben to call attention to the neglect of this resource. I sat on a bench, enjoyed the rest of my coffee and a Clif bar. It was quiet. We saw an occasional Great Blue or Great Egret fly over.

We then walked along the banks of the Trinity and over to the huge borrow pit that the city dug to build the Trinity Forest Golf Course. It was an eyesore, but now that it is filled with water, it is a nice spot. It’s sad, though, for us to recall that it used to be a beautiful prairie. We walked there one spring with blooming Prickly Pear and Indian Paintbrush. As we stood, we saw a bird soaring over. All three of us started watching through binoculars and realized quickly it was an Osprey (Ben got a picture). They are not rare, but it is rare for me to see one, and I always enjoy it. Like the Bald Eagles and White Tail Deer we occasionally see, it is a reminder that these are truly wild places. These are places without clear trails or even directions, where you can wander and be surprised.

As we walked, I was completely relaxed. It has been a stressful year for everyone. Our agency’s small staff has been strained like never before. With the city’s help, we’ve distributed over $300,000 in rental assistance for immigrant families. It has been a lot of work. Nothing restores me like a brisk walk in winter woods.

We retraced our steps and made our way back to the spring. I have a ritual of soaking my head in the waters of that spring. It’s refreshing in hot weather. And even though the water temperature was actually warmer than the air temperature this brisk morning, it was still refreshing. I poured handfuls of that spring water over my head, just as John Neely Bryan must have. Just as the Caddo and Wichita must have as they camped nearby. I gazed up at an enormous Bur Oak, where Sam Houston is thought to have once camped on his way to engage in treaty talks with Native Americans. There are not many places where we can find this connection between our history and the present. And there is no other place where I have drunk water directly from the aquifer as I have here. Thankfully, this is an area where that can happen, and I hope we are wise enough to preserve it for the future.

Ben pointed out some Bur Oaks he’d planted. He’s fond of saying how wonderful it is to plant a tree where he won’t be alive to sit in its shade. But I’m hoping the tree grows quickly enough and he ages slowly enough that perhaps he will.

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