Last Saturday was a special hike. It was a celebration of over 40 years of hiking adventures with two great friends. More about that later.
I woke up early and threw on my sweatshirt because of the chill in the air. Our plan was to hike at Post Oak Preserve in Seagoville. We were hoping to see some wildflowers. I headed out US 175, listening to the Avett Brothers, which always puts me in a good mood. I left early so I would have a moment to journal. I sat at a picnic table in the dark and turned on the small solar lamp I carry tied to my pack (be prepared!). I read the Psalms, and wrote in my journal. It had been another stressful week at work. We’re doing our annual budget, which is an exercise of faith after the year we just had. Human Rights Initiative distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency aid and provided necessary legal services to our clients, but it was damned hard. It felt good to reflect on the week and put some thoughts down on paper.
At exactly 6:45, I saw car lights, and I knew without looking that it was Ben, the most punctual person I know.
I packed up my daypack and walked over. We caught up about the week. Ben is the perfect hiking companion, and I always enjoy spending time with him. In a few minutes, my buddy Scott’s car drove up, and Mike Merino got out. For many years he has insisted we call him The Legendary Mike Merino. I’m not sure why. He was in town from Denver, newly retired. Mike, Scott, and I met at church in about 1976. We shared a love of beer, backpacking, the Bible, and liberal politics (in about that order). Our first hike was in Oklahoma on US Forest land. All I recall of that trip were multiple cold river crossings, where we took off our pants and tied them on our backpacks. Since then we’ve hiked in Wyoming, Colorado, Arkansas, Big Bend, the Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico, and even in remote Mexico. But more important, we’ve been through life together. We’ve all had girlfriends, breakups, marriages, births of children, deaths of parents, and now, for them, retirement. These are intimate friends, and we’ve shared our lives through thick and thin. They’d give a kidney to me if I asked. And I’m counting on Mike to donate a liver some day. I walked over and hugged him — a full body hug. We’re all vaccinated now, and this was only the third hug I’ve had in over a year. Soon my newer friend Chris Dowdy drove up. He works at Paul Quinn College and is a great guy.
We headed into the Post Oak Forest. It is a rare stand of mixed Post Oak, Blackjack Oak, and Hickory, and, as Ben pointed out, it is probably what parts of Uptown and downtown Dallas looked like when Europeans first arrived. You can see some big Post Oaks there and over through East Dallas. We walked over to an overview of a small reservoir and then through some wetlands, ascended the dam and crossed the lake. That is where there’s no longer a tail. We have been there enough to know how to make our way past the Oaks and find an old ranch road. It is a fantastic walk, because it’s native prairie. You see large stands of Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, and Switchgrass. This is rare virgin Blackland Prairie. We saw some blooming Indian Paintbrush and Nodding Beardtongue (Penstemon laxiflorus). We cut through heavy bands of Eastern Red Cedar, which are filled with the thorny vine Green-briar. But we were looking for the large swaths of native prairie where you can stand and see the wind blow waves through tall grass, a common sight 100 years ago but now quite rare. Standing there is a treat for the soul.
Mike and I talked about life. He asked me if I was thinking of retiring, and I said no. I have no desire to not work. However, I do see the need for my organization to be led by someone other than an old White man (I turn 65 in May), so I will be working on that. But this work is something I can’t imagine not contributing to. I’ll be fighting for justice as long as my body and wits allow. We talked about our grown kids and their lives and how proud we are of all of them.
We reached the end of the preserve and then headed back. This is the most difficult part of the hike because the woods are braided by streams without clear places to cross, and there is not a hint of a trail. We walked under towering Bur Oaks, Post Oaks, and Red Oaks, and the understory of Roughleaf Dogwood and Gum Brumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum). We found a spot with a relatively solid bottom and crossed there, before heading up a hill to rejoin the formal trail. I love this stretch of trail. In February, there are large colonies of Trout Lilies as well as Coral-root Orchids. It is a place where you can just amble along, taking in the filtered light through the Oaks and Hickories and the expanses of a carpet of Virginia Creeper.
We got back to our cars. Mike and I had another hug.
As I drove off, I reflected on the morning. I’m a lucky man. These are great friends. These are good men. They love their wives and girlfriends and treat women with respect. We were involved in our kids’ lives, and they are all great human beings. We’ve worked hard, been successful, and all given back to the community. I love them. They love me. St. Augustine in his Confessions wrote, “My true brothers love me as I am, and to such as these I will reveal who I am.” Truth. And it doesn’t hurt if they can hike 10 miles a day and still smile.