By Abby McGee, Texan by Nature Intern
I am a first generation born Texan, but my parents both moved to the state when they were young kids, so they were raised in Texas too. While my dad was born in New Mexico and my mom was born in Connecticut., they both grew to be passionate Texans after spending much of their lives in the state, and they inspired the same sentiments in me.
I grew up in a house that was, quite literally, around the corner from where my dad had grown up in Denton, Texas. I was so lucky to grow up with my grandparents living close by in that same home, and I would frequently bike or walk over. We would spend long afternoons sitting on the porch and playing in their beautiful backyard. In a suburban neighborhood, most of the backyards were fenced in, but I remember finding it so cool how my grandparents’ yard was not. Instead, their house backed up to a creek and the backyard’s natural barrier was the stream running behind it.
Along that same creek a mile away in my neighborhood park, I would frequently play with the clay soil whose texture and my imagination allowed me to sculpt it into whatever design I wanted. While I grew up in a cozy suburb that may not have appeared to offer much in terms of nature at surface level, I was mesmerized by every little magical piece of nature I could find.
When I think back to my childhood, many of my fondest memories were formed spending time outdoors. I frequently rode my bike to and from my nearby friends’ houses, walked my labrador retriever dogs, Magic, and later, Ella, around the neighborhood, and swam in my backyard pool everyday in the summers. I grew to love being in the water and swimming became my solace in the Texas summer heat. The peace I felt being in the water and the pure adrenaline and joy from practicing my cannonball or racing my sister and friends in the pool were my favorite feelings in the world. My fondness for being in the water stuck and I later swam on my high school swim team, picked up the sport of water polo, and lifeguarded at my local pool.
Many of my memories growing up center around Texas’ beautiful and plentiful lakes. My weekends were spent riding in my family’s jeep with the top down and country music blasting to nearby Lake Ray Roberts. I spent each Labor Day weekend on a church retreat to Lake Bridgeport, where I remember witnessing the most beautiful sunsets each night. My family landed on Lake Belton as an annual summer getaway spot when I was a toddler because it was located halfway between DFW and Houston, where my mom’s side of the family lived. It was during some of these trips where I first noticed the Texan pride beaming from someone besides my parents. My cousins were proud Houstonians and we would often bicker about whether Dallas or Houston was better (It’s still up for continuous debate).
I often say that country music was the soundtrack to my childhood — that was when UT or the Dallas Cowboys were not playing. The voices of Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, and more floated through our living room all day long on the weekends. The hardwood floors also became a dance floor for me, my dad, and my little sister as he taught us how to slow-dance to none other than the King of Country Music, George Strait. Nothing beats the sound of a fiddle and a steel guitar, as my dad used to say. To me, country music unites its listeners by representing everyday struggles, life’s tougher emotions and experiences, and by singing all about the many things that Texans know and love (cowboys, dancing, family, football, you name it). I now have a passion for discovering talented Texas musicians of my own generation and I’m slowly crossing iconic Texas venues off of my concert bucket list.
I was a very curious and observant child, qualities that are still a part of me today. I watched my hometown develop a lot throughout my childhood. An influx of businesses and attractions popped up over the years, and with them brought new people, and the not-so-fun parts: lots of construction and traffic. We no longer needed to travel outside of town for eating, entertainment, or shopping after a massive town center was built. That also meant that the wildflower fields and longhorn ranches it replaced were no longer. To put the extent of development further into perspective, my elementary, middle, and high schools (all some of the oldest in town) have all been torn-down partially or completely and rebuilt since I attended each of them. There has been quite a lot of change. In contrast, my dad always reminisced on the “good ol’ days”, where had freely rode his horse in the endless stretch of fields where the main roads in town now were. I was curious about why and how these changes were happening, and their impact on the local community and environment as Denton continued to grow.
I finally got the answers to some of my many questions, and also added a lot of new ones to the list as I now near the completion of my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies. A small and friendly campus community and rigorous academics drew me to attend Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX in 2019. The nearby live music scene in Austin and the magnificent beauty of the Hill Country, both of which I had heard so much about but couldn’t wait to experience for myself, were just additional perks of attending school in Central Texas.
I took a class called Texas, our(?) Texas during my first semester of college. I was intrigued by this unique class title and wanted to find out what it was all about. Little did I know that it would become what is still my favorite class I have ever taken. I got to write an essay about George Strait (is it obvious I’m a huge fan?), watch the movie Boyhood, and eat Terry Black’s BBQ in Austin — all for class credit. The class unpacked Texas’ unique history, culture, economy, and environment, and I feel like we were just able to scratch the surface.
I feel as if there is never a shortage of new places to explore in Texas – new road trips to take, state parks to visit, or quaint, small Texas towns to fall in love with. I am constantly mesmerized by discovering new places and encountering new people in Texas. I will never forget how wonderstruck I was the first time that I visited places like the Pineywoods, Palo Duro Canyon, or overlooked the gorgeous, panoramic Hill Country views on Mt. Baldy or Enchanted Rock.
The friendliness and hospitality that Texans are characterized by is unlike anything I have witnessed elsewhere. Texas is a place defined by innovation, hard work, and pride and recognition for all that came before us, and all that is to come. I am delighted to work for an organization that highlights the various work being done to advance conservation in our state, unites organizations and people of all kinds towards this common mission, and is constantly coming up with new ideas to preserve the beautiful landscape and incredible livelihood of our state. I am proud to be Texan by Nature.