Born and raised in the West Texas desert oil town of Odessa, state pride was instilled in me from an early age. There are few things bigger in Texas than our football, and being a graduate from the world famous Permian High School, I can tell you that West Texas football is an entirely different breed of its own. From the time I could walk, you could find me every fall Friday evening watching football games under the REAL and ORIGINAL Friday Night Lights of Ratliff Stadium. Through both Permian High School and my hometown of Odessa itself, I learned the importance of tradition, loyalty, a strong work ethic, and patience. Tradition, by going to Whataburger with friends after every football game, be it following a win or a loss, and celebrating making the playoffs by hearing the marching band play Hawaii 5-0 and traveling with the team, no matter the distance, to a neutral playoff site. Loyalty, by choosing and sticking with Permian, even though my entire family went to our bitter cross-town rival, Odessa High, and would tease me for wearing Panther black instead of Broncho red. Strong work ethic, by helping my Pawpaw mend and paint fences and load endless bales of hay on his land or carrying my weight at my family’s machine shop by surfacing valves and loading engine blocks into the back of customers’ truck beds in the summer. Patience, by enjoying the oil boom while it lasted, but knowing that we would have to find a way economically to ride out the inevitable bust that was sure to follow years down the road.
West Texans are a different kind of tough, and that is what led me to gain such a deep appreciation for desert environments, including Big Bend and Terlingua, because it always made me wonder how in the world the early pioneers could have survived and settled in such unforgiving places. My appreciation for desert environments is also what fostered my love for and interest of wildlife and conservation. I grew up hunting and fishing, especially with my Pawpaw, dad, uncles Jack and James, and family friend Tommy Greer, and one of the spots we frequent to hunt mule deer is a section of land that my family owns outside of Sanderson, Texas in the Chihuahuan Desert. It is here that I got my first taste of real wilderness only 12 miles from the Texas-Mexico international border, and I experienced exactly how small and insignificant the vast openness and towering canyon walls can make you feel, especially being without any sort of phone service hours away from the nearest hospital!
I credit Sanderson with helping me carve my path to wanting to become a conservation professional, and that path taking me 5.5 hours away from home to study wildlife biology at Texas State University in San Marcos. Although vastly different from the desert that I was raised in, Central Texas had a way of drawing me in with its karst topography, flowing springs and rivers, rolling hills, and diversity of species. Four of the best years of my life were spent in Central Texas, and I loved it so much that I decided to come right back after completing a summer job term in West Virginia. West Virginia lives up to its motto of “Wild and Wonderful”, but it simply does not compare to Texas and the people here. The feeling of content and fulfillment that came over me when I crossed the state line back into the Lone Star State let me know that I was right where I needed to be, and because of that fulfillment, I would very much consider myself to be Texan by Nature.