As a small child, I spent weeks in the summer with my grandparents. They lived on a farm outside of Hallettsville—a little quaint Czech community they called home. I spent countless hours on that little farm, a majority of the time, outdoors. Some might attribute that to the fact there wasn’t air conditioning or indoor plumbing, which in part might be true, but the fact of the matter is, times were just more fun outside. My cousins and I spent hours playing in the bare sand under a canopy of giant water oaks that let only a hint of sunlight through. Repeatedly burying each other up to our necks so we could bust out from under the pile of sand like super heroes. We turned mottes of yaupon into castles with rooms defined by their gnarly woven trunks. Our kingdom would be guarded for hours against “invading” cows that grazed in the distance. The porch swing became our roller coaster as we pushed each other as high as it would take us; the wind through our hair created a momentary reprieve from the heat. My grandparents were simple, hardworking people so it wasn’t surprising that with those days of play, also came a healthy dose of “earning your stay.”
Those days spent with my grandparents are some of the sweetest memories I have and in hindsight, impacted me more than I could ever imagine. They spurred a desire to explore and enjoy the great outdoors, planted the seed for a calling, held me accountable to conserve, and fed my desire to teach my children the importance of natural spaces and all they provide.We picked eggs, and vegetables from a garden I swear could grow anything. We watered the plants and animals and swept the porch that was incessantly covered with sand—probably mostly from us (see super hero play above). We learned to shuck corn and shell peas until our fingers were raw and/or purple. Each day ended with a meal made from something raised or grown on the farm, spread across a dinner table that was adorned with a small glass filled with flowers we had picked from the meadow. When the sun began to fade behind the tree line, we’d climb into a bath that had just enough water to get the job done so as not to waste a drop—a lesson instilled in us from birth. Our day would end listening to bedtime stories by grandma about life in the “olden days” only to be interrupted by a coyote in the distance or cicadas and tree frogs forming a musical rhythm. The breeze held a hint of coolness, and the smell of the night air was heavenly as we drifted off to sleep.
Through those days, I learned that life was better outside and there was a lot out there to see. Our state boasts 10 diverse and beautiful ecoregions. From the Pineywoods to the Trans Pecos and High Plains to the Gulf Coast prairies and marshes, they each exhibit their own uniqueness, beauty, and value. I’ve traveled all over the state and am still in awe of our natural landscapes. Being in them is where I feel most at home. There is a peace within them that surpasses all understanding.
Through those days, I learned that we must take care of the things that take care of us. I remember leaving home for college with the expectation that the 18-year-old me should know exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. Some kids know…for me, not so much. Although my journey was more of an evolution than spontaneous combustion, one thing I did know was that I wanted to choose a path that I felt made a difference. After a year or two of weighing my options, and finally being told “You need to pick something!” by my academic advisor…I chose forestry. When she asked, why forestry? I responded “…because I like trees and being outdoors!” I still laugh at myself sometimes over my rationale, but looking back, that decision has led me on a career I could never have dreamed of and one that has been more rewarding than I could ever have imagined. I’ve had the privilege over the years, of working alongside colleagues on more conservation projects, initiatives, and research than I can count. Each teaching me something different about the land, water, and wildlife around me. There are so many who work tirelessly to manage, conserve, enhance, and protect them all. I’ve learned that our rural working lands provide our food, fiber, and water and that they should not only be enjoyed for their beauty but also conserved for what they provide and how much we depend on them.
Through those days, I learned when much is given, much is expected. Conservation for me, not only means taking care of our natural places, but also leaving as small of a footprint as we can. There was a familiar saying that I heard nothing short of a million times as a child. Take what you’ll eat. Eat what you take. I feel like this can be applied really to our lives. Use only what you need, need what you use. It’s a good principle for not wasting and I believe is where conservation starts.
And finally, through those days, I learned the importance of passing on this heritage to the next generation. The pace of life is fast, often too fast. I’ve tried hard to teach my children to take time to stop and smell the roses (literally), explore the world around them and the magnificent creatures that live in it. We’ve planted vegetables, nestled in flowerbeds when a garden wasn’t an option, and watched their excitement as the bloom turned to vegetables that double in size overnight. (A little something pro-bono…growing food is the easiest way to get children to eat vegetables.) I’ve tried to teach them not to waste because there are many who often go without and to appreciate those who worked hard to provide it. It’s again, an evolution not spontaneous combustion but one I believe is worth the time and hard work. It’s ensuring generations to come can enjoy an even better great outdoors and be able to enjoy all they provide.
I often think back to those days on that small little farm and think about how much they really were the foundation for who I am today. The summers spent there have long been gone but were the days that sparked my love for natural things, birthed the conservationist in me, and are the heart of what makes me Texan by Nature.