Fear Factor

In The Wizard of Oz, the line about lions and tigers and bears is a refrain, repeated four times. Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy say, "Lions and tigers and bears!" And then Dorothy punctuates with "Oh, my!"

So right now I'm Dorothy. I am standing here at a gateway to the Great Trinity Forest. Two fat pipes, crudely spray-painted gray, rise up out of the ground like haunted headstones on either side of a dirt lane beyond the dead end of Fairport Road, about a mile southwest of the intersection of Loop 12 and the C.F. Hawn Freeway. Graffiti on one pipe says "Tony."

The land ahead dips down into a dark and tangled void. My eyes are taking awhile to adjust, and then it's going to take longer for my mind.

Oh, my. I thought this was going to be easy. For years I've heard people talking about the "Great Trinity Forest." The Dallas Morning News always describes it as "the largest urban bottomland hardwood forest in the nation." What does that mean?

Whenever I drive south on Interstate 45 or on C.F. Hawn Freeway (175) across Southern Dallas, I see this area as a vast gray-green mush beyond my car window. The city's Trinity River Project Office promotes the idea that this 6,000-acre void along the lower reaches of the Trinity River is an amenity. We are to believe that this area is or will one day become a kind of park.

So I figured if it was a park, I'd go for a hike. I was in high spirits--this was a warm bright day toward the end of January--and I was up for it. I'm a very woodsy person. I hike in the woods a lot. I am not a sissy about being out in the wild. Or I wasn't a sissy until about 50 seconds ago when I encountered my first example of Great Trinity Forest wildlife.

As I walked from my parked car toward this entrance, just as I was stepping over a low barricade of bulldozed dirt, sewer pipe and building material fragments, I was set upon by a splendid specimen of the three-legged red chow dog species, with one milky eye and a ragged ear. He was extremely unfriendly. I pride myself on understanding dogs, and I believe that he was saying to me in dog language: "I am going to bite you in the neck and eat you for lunch."

I was able to talk him out of eating me for lunch by hurling at him a barrage of hastily grabbed-up rocks, broken brick-ends and wallboard fragments and by using an old wildlife trick I remembered from my Detroit years--shouting the MF word at him in a high-pitched shriek.

The MF word did the trick. He's gone. Now I'm supposed to walk down this dirt road into the Great Trinity Forest. And I'm thinking real hard about how maybe I don't get paid enough for this job.

Great Trinity Forest, indeed.

I'm not sure who is to blame for calling it that. The name is the product of fairly recent politics. When the city and the Corps of Engineers wanted to bulldoze a broad swath down the floodplain to reduce the danger of flooding, environmentalists and naturalists sent up a howl and rushed out to inventory priceless natural wonders that would be lost. My people, in other words. It will be their fault if I get eaten by a dingo today.

But then at some point in the political strife over the Trinity River project, a huge public works scheme to rebuild the river where it runs through the city, the city took up the name Great Trinity Forest and began touting the area as one of the many benefits of the project. Comparisons even have been drawn to New York's Central Park, which is only 843 acres.

But Central Park is nice.

I finally have nerved myself to walk on a little farther. I have so many rocks in my pockets I'm afraid I'll lose my pants, and I'm carrying a branch the size of a railroad tie. I have forced myself to stop muttering the MF word, because I think it's un-naturalistic, but I want you to know I am shakin' in my hiking boots. Every time a twig snaps I think it's that devil dog sneaking up on me again.

Another thing bothers me: In driving around with my maps and my little GPS thing looking for different ways into the forest, I observed instances of what I believed were illegal activities. In one area I saw woodland sprites flitting among the trees. On closer examination, I decided these were not sprites but prostitutes. I'm not afraid of prostitutes, especially, but I just don't normally associate them with nature hikes.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze