Over the years, I have been asked, “What’s your favorite spot on the Refuge?” Most of the time, I admittedly put little thought into my response and simply go with an easy and expected answer such as “the Boardwalk,” “Lone Point,” or “Cross Timbers Trail,” depending on who is asking. Obviously, there is no such thing as a wrong answer since a) it’s my opinion and b) every spot on the Refuge is worthy of being a favorite for one reason or another.
After 25 years at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, I find myself pondering a more thoughtful response to such an easy question. When I close my eyes and think of the Refuge, so many iconic locations come to mind, but one specific vision repeatedly pushes its way to the forefront. It isn’t a vision of any of our prairies in full bloom or the marsh replete with wintering waterfowl. It is a vision of a single tree and a boulder, a scene that I noted when I first arrived at the Nature Center a quarter century ago.
Most frequent visitors would recognize the rounded boulder that lies just off the roadside along Shoreline Drive. Erosion over eons created its relative spherical shape, which is unlike any other large rock on the property. I see this rock almost every day, oftentimes several times within a day, and each observation confirms for me the permanence of the Refuge. Seeing it today is a connection to the staff who preceded me and those who will follow. This rock connects us to the indigenous peoples of this area as well as to the European explorers, early settlers, Civilian Conservation Corps workers, and every other individual or group that has passed this way over time.
Sitting on that sandstone orb a mere ten feet off the edge of the road also encourages one to conjure images of Sisyphus pushing that rock up the adjacent hillside, an apt allegory for many of the Sisyphean tasks required in managing and maintaining the Refuge.
Adjacent to the sandstone boulder and abutting the road edge is a large bur oak that measures about 28 inches in diameter. The tree has been there for more than a hundred years, providing shade to the rock and the neighboring road as well as untold numbers of weary travelers. The tree is just one of many bur oaks in that particular patch of bottomland woods and, if not for a single branch, would appear beautiful but rather nondescript.
It is that branch stretching well over 30 feet that makes this particular tree stand out in my mind. The branch, at least a foot in diameter and fifteen feet in the air, reaches down and across Shoreline Drive to the east, beckoning those driving or hiking west along the road. The branch lies almost horizontal, almost parallel to the road surface. Nature is not known for its horizontal lines, and that is what has always caught my eye as I approached this tree.
While no tree can rival a rock for exhibiting permanence, this tree is a model of resilience as it has withstood the impacts of more than a century of weather as well as human disturbances, including road building and maintenance. But like all living things, the tree — and this branch, in particular — are beginning to show signs of age.
The terminal easternmost end of the branch is all but dead, slowly drying, and, as is the nature of oaks, becoming harder and harder. Someday, the branch will have to be removed for safety reasons, but in the meantime, the tree is struggling to save the branch. Dozens of sprigs of new growth sprout from the branch close to the trunk. The sprigs all extend upward toward the sun in an attempt to maintain the vitality of the branch.
The branch will eventually lose its battle, die, and be removed. The tree will follow. But nearby, the tree’s progeny are waiting for the opportunity to take its place to provide shade for the rock and passersby. I only hope that one of them will have a strangely horizontal branch that catches one’s wandering eye.
Is it odd that a favorite place be located immediately adjacent to the road? No. Favorite places just have to have connections and be memorable to the beholder.
Look for the rock and the branch on your next visit. Take a stroll down Shoreline Drive to visit them and imagine your own connections.