What Makes Me Texan by Nature –

Jake Cooper

Garner State Park

Texans don’t just live in Texas; Texas lives in them. The state’s culture and hospitality, the feeling of freedom and wide-open spaces (a la Dixie Chicks), and the unwavering spirit of wild possibilities.

Mexia, Texas

As a native Texan, born and raised on a lake outside the small town of Mexia, I grew up surrounded by the beauty of nature. As an only child, stepping outside my door every day was like jumping into my own adventure. The sound of cicadas buzzing in the early summer sun, sitting on the dock watching thunderstorms roll in across the choppy water, spending hours immersed in the forest oaks. Not to mention, our town boasted both a Walmart and H-E-B, which anyone from a small town would recognize as a point of pride. Growing up on the lake gave me access to what felt like another world. I would set out on the kayak, paddling under the old bridge and up the slough, exploring every bend and curve, in awe of catching wildlife in their natural habitat. These moments were not just about being in nature; they were about becoming a part of it, feeling its rhythms and mysteries. Nature taught me the value of independence, the thrill of discovery, and the peace of solitude. It nurtured my curiosity, instilled in me a sense of wonder, and fueled a deep love for exploration and learning.

Lake Mexia, Texas

As I grow older, I become ever more aware of how magical these experiences were for me as a child, how they sparked a fire within me, which has fueled a deep and nurturing bond with nature that has continued throughout my life. The calm glassy waters in the early morning hours, the way you feel small when standing so deep in the trees is all you can see, catching the shape of the wind as it playfully lifts the leaves, swilling them into the air. There is so much untapped wisdom in the outdoors just waiting to be uncovered, a spiritual connection that felt both ancient and present to me.

Mount McKinley, Alaska

Heading out into nature has always been my first line of defense when I feel lost or overwhelmed. The power it has to bring you peace and reflection never ceases to amaze me. Stare out over the cliffside, lay down in the grass and watch the trees sway, open your eyes to the deep truths that “I am you and you are me,” we are all a part of the cycles of the universe.

It’s this connection with nature that has accelerated my journey into conservation. After practicing law for close to ten years, I found myself at a crossroads where my heart was steering me towards a different path – one that aligned more closely with my passion for nature conservation and the great outdoors. The decision to leave behind a successful legal career was not easy, but the pull of my true calling was stronger. I wanted to dedicate myself to protecting and preserving the natural beauty that has always been such a big part of my life.

Rio, Brazil (left) Segovia, Spain (right)

My roots in small-town Texas and my deep connection with nature have shaped me into who I am today. They have taught me the value of community, the importance of preserving our natural world, and the power of following your heart. When I’m not at work, you can catch me and my husband, Michael, hiking, biking, and camping in one of the many beautiful parks in the Hill Country! I am forever grateful for the experiences that have brought me to this point and excited for the adventures that lie ahead!

Garner State Park