What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Brandice Nelson

After my dad retired from the United States Air Force in 1999, we moved from the tiny island of Okinawa, Japan, to the vast expanse of Texas. As the travel brochures claimed, it was “like a whole other country.” My earliest association with the state was tornadoes. Twister came out in 1996, and I probably shouldn’t have seen it at 5! Later, I came to think of it in terms of flowers—the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush depicted in the Tomie dePaola books I think every Texan should read at least once, the mountain laurels whose two-week bloom is the highlight of my spring, and of course, the yellow rose.

We settled in Cedar Park when there was little more to the city than trees. My siblings and I went on all kinds of adventures in the wilderness across the street from our house, which we later learned was host to a network of limestone caves. Once, we took backpacks of snacks and a sheet my mom probably didn’t notice we’d squirreled out of the house and set off to create our own post-apocalyptic campsite in the woods based on a reality show we’d been watching. We took our overprotective dachshund, Ella, as our guard dog, but she wasn’t particularly good at stealth and ended up barking at all the wildlife.

I learned to do life outdoors as a Girl Scout in central Texas. My troop leaders taught me how to pitch a tent and make hot cocoa on a camp stove, which are likely the two most important things you should know if you’re camping in Texas in the early winter. Through my scouting affiliation, I was certified with the U.S. Canoe Association on canoes and kayaks at Camp Texlake. I’ve camped at a few sites in central Texas, but my favorite place has always been Inks Lake. The shenanigans and hijinks of a half-dozen middle and high school-aged girls aside, Inks Lake was the first place I’d ever been able to look up into a dark sky so clear that I could see the Milky Way. The stars at night are big and bright, indeed.

I am and always have been both a historian and a bookworm. I majored in history at Baylor University and loved it so much I stayed to earn my master’s degree in museum studies. As a graduate student, I was deeply impressed by Freeman Tilden’s poetic prose and passion for historic and environmental conservation in Interpreting Our Heritage. Texas is the perfect place to put Tilden’s lessons into practice—you just can’t tell the history of this place without talking about its natural resources.

Since then, to quote Stephen F. Austin, “my health and strength and time have gone into the service of Texas.” It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve always been able to find peace in nature. I came across the Balcones Canyonlands Wildlife Preserve purely by accident during one of the most difficult periods of my life, and the time I spent wandering the hiking trails pretending to be a Hobbit and admiring the view of the Hill Country from the sunset deck was truly therapeutic. I even briefly contemplated moving out of state, but ultimately, I couldn’t face the prospect of living somewhere without bluebonnets (or H-E-B).

At the end of the day, it’s fair to say that I am Texan By Nature because somewhere over the last 20+ years, I grew roots in Texas, and Texas grew roots in me.