Autumn at Eagle Mountain Park

Today I walked a rolling patch of Cross Timbers woodland at Eagle Mountain Park, to the Ridge Loop Trail. The numerous other walkers and joggers reminded me that this was no unusual accomplishment, but the 3.8 miles I walked and climbed today is a sort of extension of my cardiac rehabilitation. In fact, I went to rehab this morning, doing exercise that was much less demanding than the afternoon’s walk. A month ago I was grateful to take a short walk at Southwest Nature Preserve, so today is progress.

Some of my motivation was provided by my companions, Barbara and her kids, Dani and Nicky (see Orb Weavers and Quiet Conversation). When the two of them took a short cut up a steep hillside, I figured it was do-able and charged up after them. I needed to catch my breath at the top, but did OK. And they’re bright and curious, giving me a chance to pass along some of what I know about nature. Both found some red fruit on a prickly pear cactus and wanted to try eating them. Nicky managed to pick up one of these tunas, and I told him how I’ve wanted to skin one and eat it, but instead I always manage to get those glochids, the tiny spines, stuck in my skin and feel them for days afterward. Maybe I helped him avoid that experience.

Yucca and prickly pear in a prairie opening in the woods

We also compared notes about eating juniper berries, and then we discussed how the berries are really modified cones. Noticing that only some trees had berries, I said that these junipers exist separately as male trees (their pollen making them look like they’ve been dusted in gold this time of year) and female trees.

Trying not to subject them to too much natural history and just have fun, I still could not resist pointing out how the tiny tufted seeds on little bluestem grass shine in the sunlight. I have an unnatural attraction to native prairie grasses, even though I have only modest knowledge of them. Regardless, walking through a patch of these grasses is powerful medicine, and it’s medicine that I’m always eager to take.

We found mistletoe, and we did talk a little about how this plant is a parasite, although most of the trees we see do not appear to be harmed much unless the tree is covered with many of the plants. The woods were beautiful, with the signature post oak and blackjack, and at least one species of the red oak group. In some places, especially in spots with more limestone emerging from the soil, there were live oaks.

Mistletoe

We reached a point where we emerged at the shore of Eagle Mountain Lake, and stood watching a few gulls flying and a group of American coots paddling on the lake surface. Nicky found a branch with a pretty fair resemblance to Gandalf’s staff in the Lord of the Rings movies, and he traced a number of runes into the trail surface. “Ash nazg gimbatul!” There’s much fun to be found on a walk like this.

The shore of Eagle Mountain Lake

It seems to me that the Cross Timbers is not usually a place with spectacular fall foliage on a grand scale. Most years, you appreciate the more subtle loveliness of the woods, and you find small patches of colorful leaves. That is what we found today. The woods were beautiful in shades of brown, rust, and straw, and in places the leaves were bright red and green.

I’m grateful to have been in the company of these socially-distanced friends today, and grateful to have been able to walk and climb through these woods. May everyone have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving tomorrow.

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