Thursday, February 29, 2024 Feb 29, 2024
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Nature & Environment

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

An old friend and hike through the Trinity Forest
By Bill Holston |
The author speaks softly. Photo by Ben Sandifer

Saturday morning was crisp and clear. Those are the mornings that feel like rewards for hiking in Dallas in August. I drove over the train tracks on the overpass on Buckner, seeing the lights from the skyline of Dallas. A reminder that this hike is in close proximity to our city. I was playing Mavis Staples loud—as if there were any other way to listen to her. She was singing the civil rights anthem “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” a song popularized by the great Nina Simone. It put me instantly in a good mood.

I was meeting my longtime hiking friends Scott Hudson and Ben Sandifer. Joining us for the first time was my great friend Steve Schulman, who recently moved to Dallas from Washington, D.C. No one I know does more to promote human rights than my fellow lawyer Steve. When he asked if he could join us on a hike, I was excited that Ben and Scott would be great hiking companions for his intro to the Trinity Forest.

Our plan was to meet at Big Spring, cross Bryan’s Slough, and then head to where White Rock Creek enters the Trinity. It’s probably my favorite local hike. We met in the parking area. The skies were still dark before the time change, so we could see the entire Winter Hexagon: Rigel, Sirius, Procyon, Pollux, Capella, and Albdebaran, and even the Pleiades. We walked down to the historic Sam Houston Bur Oak and could hear spring water rushing out of the pool. We waited a moment for it to get light and started walking.

It was cool enough for sweatshirt, truly perfect hiking weather. We made our way along an old ranch road to cross Bryan’s Slough (named after John Neely Bryan, who once lived close by). There were downed limbs from the storms of last week. As we neared the slough, we could see standing water. We were familiar enough with the area to know that the water was waist deep. We decided this was not something we wanted to do and took an alternative route starting from the end of Elam Road, about a five-minute drive.

We parked at the small parking area and walked toward the Trinity River, beginning on a paved trail and soon picking up a fisherman’s trail to the river. We crossed a stream that was small because of a beaver dam on the pond it flowed out of. We pointed out a few of the city’s failed efforts in the Forest: the huge pit dug for dirt for the golf course and the old rusting rebar from an abandoned bridge project. Then we walked into the woods past some ponds. I was a bit ahead headed for a large pond. I spooked some Wood Ducks. When Ben caught u, he said he had seen a River Otter in the pond I’d walked past. That was special and I was disappointed to have missed it.

We walked along the Holland Trail. These are beautiful woods. Lots of Ash, Western Soapberry, Hackberry, and Cedar Elm, and the forest floor is covered in Woodland Sea Oat and Virginia Wild Rye. Soon we were walking in pools of clear standing water. Because the trial is a bit below grade, it holds water. I have waterproof shoes, but they were no match for this much water. To be honest, I don’t mind getting my feet wet. Especially after the severe draught we just survived, it’s an opportunity to celebrate these rains. We paused at White Rock Creek, marveling at the amount of water in the creek, which was several feet deep where we usually stand on dry ground. We decided to follow the trail through the woods to where Bryan’s Slough enters White Rock Creek. We walked and talked on our way there.

Steve and I talked about his love for baseball and his new interest in the Rangers. We then talked about football and how I had followed football as a kid in Alabama. My dad attended the University of Alabama and was a huge admirer of Bear Bryant. I told him that I’d tired of how seriously Alabamans take football rivalries (I left out the part about how I’d also tired of many of my old high school friends embracing White nationalism) and how that had soured me on following football. We also talked about the trees, plants, and topography of these really pretty woods. Sometimes we walked in silence.

We made our way all the way across to the power line easements next to Bryan’s Slough, which again were under several feet of water, so we turned around. We could hear the loud and distinctive call of a Red Shouldered Hawk. We had walked past the spot, to access where the slough entered White Rock Creek, because everything looked very different due to the amount of rainwater flooding the slough and creek. But we found the spot and found that White Rock Creek had backed up and flooded the entire peninsula where Bryan’s Slough enters. It was really cool to see that. As we hiked, we pointed out a snag that had huge holes from the Pileated Woodpeckers that are common in these bottomlands.

We walked back to tour car following the same route we’d walked in. We paused to watch some Ruby and Orange Crowned Kinglets as well as some Yellow Rumped Warblers. We finished back at our cars and said our goodbyes. Steve is a very experienced hiker and has seen some of the most beautiful spots in our country. No, our Trinity Forest doesn’t compete with that, but it’s what we have, and Steve pointed out it was a 20-minute drive from his house. I was proud to show him some of our special places. It was a great introduction hike.

Hey, I don’t know about you, but this is a stressful time. How many times can you hear a podcast about how our democracy is being threatened before being really depressed? How can you read stories about a governor that puts refugees on a bus as a political stunt or hear the vitriol directed toward our transgender kids before it affects your mood? Well, it gets to me, anyway. A couple hours in the woods doesn’t make any of that better, but it restores me to fight another day and another week, and that’s pretty great.


Bill Holston

Bill Holston

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