Looking back, it’s hard to say when my enchantment with the natural world began. Long summer days in Lubbock, Texas, were filled with trips to the local children’s science museum, making mud pies and building forts in my backyard, nature camps, horseback riding lessons, and rock collecting. I was always an outdoorsy, animal-loving kid, never balking at getting my hands dirty or picking up the bug or frog causing other kids (and sometimes adults) to shriek with disgust.
I probably had a unique advantage to my nature-inclined upbringing in that both my parents are teachers. My mom, a science-teacher-turned-administrator, spent several years of my childhood as a science education coordinator, so I had personalized access to the curriculum she helped design. She inspired a love for science early by including “experiments” for fun enrichment at home and would spend long hours with me at the museum, as I pored over preserved mammal skins in drawers and marveled at enormous Camarasaurus and Quetzalcoatlus. My dad, a high school government and history teacher, was an endless source of historical knowledge and sardonic jokes and reveled in introducing me to some of his favorite wild places across the southwest. A lot of my very first naturalist equipment – hiking poles, floppy sunhats, entry-level binoculars – were well-loved hand-me-downs from Dad.
I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for fostering an early love for natural landscapes and wildlife big and small. Their support inspired me to pursue biology in my high school coursework, and after graduating in 2015 I moved from Lubbock to Austin to start my undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Texas.
I quickly found my place both academically and socially within the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior degree option, learning ravenously and making an abundance of like-minded friends in herpetology, ornithology, field biology, botany and many other engaging classes. Soon I was surrounded with opportunities to get well-acquainted with the flora and fauna of a new city and beyond, from catching water snakes on the UT campus, to collecting and identifying flowering plants across Austin, practicing field techniques at UT’s field stations, or guided birdwatching in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Texas coast.
I have been in my element in my last few years at UT, taking field classes every semester to supplement classroom instruction. Every new taxon I’m introduced to in class has informed my experiences as a growing naturalist: my dad’s hand-me-down equipment has been joined by snake hooks and headlamps, plant presses, stronger cameras and binoculars, and more than a few field guides. I’ve gotten better at taking field notes and recording data, enhanced by citizen science apps such as iNaturalist and eBird. I’ve grown as an artist, interpreting my experiences with wildlife and plants through painting and photography. I have found an overwhelmingly knowledgeable and passionate community of fellow student naturalists, united by the shared thrill of ticking off lifer species, the puzzle of accurate identifications, the immersive beauty of wildlife photography and art, and the appreciation of wild spaces. Though my pace has suffered as a result, I experience every hike with a newfound awe, pausing frequently to watch or listen for wildlife, snap a reference picture, or count petals on a flower. Thankfully, I’m often surrounded by friends all pausing to do the same.
Though I’m a born-and-bred Texan, steeped in a love for science and the outdoors, it’s in these recent semesters that I’ve begun to know the beautiful, diverse landscapes of my home state and their inhabitants more intimately. I consider myself lucky to be able to study here; these wild places have acted as my classrooms and been forgiving of novice mistakes. My passion for protecting these priceless landscapes has only grown the more acquainted I became with my home.
Wherever I end up after Austin, I hope to make a life of preserving and restoring native habitats and engaging with people about the plants and animals that rely on them. I hope to share that same awe I feel each time I steal away to the woods or canyons or prairies to bask in their richness, inspiring others to enjoy and protect these treasures too. Falling in love with wild places has provided me with both sanctuary and community, soothing daily anxieties and grounding me in my minuscule branch on the vast web of life.
My experiences as a student and naturalist have shaped my identity and sense of place in recent years, informed by a Texas-grown lifelong love for biology. These collective lived experiences are central to what makes me Texan by Nature. I plan on proudly carrying this loving identity with me as I continue to explore, learn, and teach others about the breathtaking diversity of life that persists all around us.