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Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

The songs of Dickcissels on the AT&T Trail
By Bill Holston |
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Photo by Bill Holston

Driving down Buckner yesterday morning, I was listening to Susan Tedeschi’s version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”: Just give me one thing that I can hold onto. To believe in this living is just a hard way to go. Well, I’m no angel, and I’m not from Montgomery. I’m more of a sinner from Mobile. And this living, it’s a hard way to go.

The sky began to turn pink, and it promised to be a beautiful sunrise. I parked at the AT&T trailhead, put on my binoculars, and started walking. The morning was cool and filled with the songs of the Dickcissels that have migrated here in the last few weeks. I walked past the first pond and saw a single White Ibis soaring overhead, with its distinctive curved beak. It was followed by a Little Blue Heron. I saw a couple of Indigo Buntings, and then I heard the unmistakable song of a Painted Bunting. It was sitting on the top of a transplanted Minor Palm Tree. I stood and watched him throw back his head and sing.

It was great to start my day, something I’ve done most mornings for the last two years. I started walking here during the pandemic because frankly being a leader of an organization that continued to operate at full speed during a pandemic was extremely stressful. I’m proud that my team continued to operate so ably and to serve as many people as they have for the entire period of the pandemic. The work never lessens or gets easier. Yesterday a group of five migrants showed up at our office just before 5 p.m., one holding paperwork with a list of local aid agencies. “Lo Siento, Nosotros estamos cerrado para casos nuevos,” I told them in my primitive Spanish. They were all hot and on foot. I imagined their trip here, probably including the Mountain of Death in the Darien Gap of Panama. I asked if they wanted water and they said yes. We were out of disposable water bottles, so I took a clean beer growler from my office (doesn’t everyone keep one around?), filled it full of cold filtered water, and cleaned out all the snacks I’d bought for staff and took it to them. They all said gracias and then, as they expressed their appreciation, I pulled out my wallet and gave them all the cash I had, which was a $20 bill. Not enough, not nearly enough, but better than the damned razor wire our governor is putting out at the border.

A sticker on my car says “Tu Lucha es mi Lucha,” your fight is my fight, and it always will be. But it won’t be at Human Rights Initiative after August 11. I’m leaving to be the chief operations officer at the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center, which was started by my good friend Mark Melton.

Speaking of a good friend, Mark and I hammered out the terms of my new gig at Goodfriend Beer Garden & Burger House. Co-owner Matt Tobin calls Mark a “gangster lawyer,” which he means as a compliment and which Mark accepts as such. Maybe we’ll invest in a billboard on I-30.

Why would I leave this organization I love and where I’ve been involved as a lawyer since 2000 and served as executive director for 11 years? That’s long enough. I’m moving aside to make room for new leadership, and I’m taking my considerable experience to benefit a new organization. As my youngest son, Fred, says, it’s a bittersweet thing.

As I walked, the sky turned more and more pink, then red. I stood and watched the sunrise over fields of Clasping Cone Flower, Plains Coreopsis, and Bee Balm. The view was made even more special by the knowledge that these hills cover a former illegal landfill. Now it is truly beautiful. As I turned a corner, I could hear the loud drilling of a Pileated Woodpecker. I walked over to look into the woods where I know there’s a specific dead limb on which I often see woodpeckers. There it was, perched and drumming away. It flew away toward the bridge.

As I do each morning, I crossed the pedestrian bridge over the Trinity River and returned to sit on the stone bench where I start my mornings. As I do each day, I recited the Shema Ysrael, then read a Psalm. On this morning, it was Psalm 69: “Let you who seek G-d, let your heart revive.” I heard the beautiful song of the Summer Tanager. I looked up and saw its brilliant red against the sky. Just above it, perched at the very top of a tree, I saw the form of a Pileated, with its red mohawk standing out. There was another one making a continuous loud call in the distance. This is a call that always brings me joy.

Much like the call to fight for justice, that rings in my ears and in those of my colleagues at HRI and now with my new comrades at the DEAC. Maybe you can hear it, too.

Author

Bill Holston

Bill Holston

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