What Makes Me Texan by Nature

– Savanna Rodriguez

Category Archive: TxN General

  1. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Savanna Rodriguez

    Leave a Comment

    By Savanna Rodriguez, Texan by Nature Intern

    For as long as I can remember happiness looked like being surrounded by family, animal companions close by, and more often than not a fishing pole (or a couple) in hand. I grew up south of San Antonio in Losoya, Texas. Growing up my parents worked hard to provide for me and my older brother. In hindsight, money probably was an issue, (I’ve been thrifting since before it was cool) but I’m sure if you asked me and my brother at the time we would have never known. All we knew was the outdoors, sneaking snakes and bugs inside to scare my mom with, my brother skinning squirrels on the porch, chasing our escaped cow down the medina riverbank, and shooting our first bb guns at cans dangling in front of the dense tree line that fenced our land, as far as we knew life was GOOD. Although I have a squirrel-loving brother, I was without a doubt my dad’s mini-me. We were always outside together tending to chickens, goats, the occasional donkey, anything I could bat my eyes for at the local flea market. My mom swears that the only punishment that worked for me at a young age was being condemned to the house with NO outside time (sounds awful even now). I owe my love for the outdoors to my dad amongst many other things, he is a man of MANY jokes. He is also a man of many envelopes. Envelopes you may be wondering about. Yes, envelopes. That’s how my dad saves his money for fun activities or important endeavors little by little in envelopes stashed in a drawer we let him believe is “secret”. We may have been thrifting our entire wardrobe, but come summer there was a beach picnic table and cooler full of sandwiches with our name on it.

    Unbeknownst to me it seems that the picnic table was always near Aransas Pass, Texas. Aransas pass is a small town located right between Rockport and Port Aransas. The locals call it saltwater heaven and we’ve got the catches to prove it. Fast forward a couple of years, my upbringing made me value experiences (and the Texas coast). So, it’s no surprise After graduating from Texas A&M – Kingsville I found myself RVing full-time in Aransas Pass. The thought of a landlocked apartment terrified me and my need for fresh air and sunshine. That longing for sunshine and fresh air, and love for fauna and flora had always drawn me toward the outdoors.

    Generations of my family could say the same. I am the family’s memory hoarder, every old box of photos that comes out of storage is coming home with me for sure. My favorite parts of old photos are seeing not only my younger self but generations of my family enjoying the same natural places I did. Another thing generations of my family enjoyed were Texas Country music. What they didn’t enjoy so much was my singing at the top of my lungs. Singing wasn’t the only thing I did loud, I sort of just tend to be loud. My dad would often tell me I was scaring the fish away growing up. As I grew up I often smothered my rather loud personality hoping to appeal more “collected”. Now I realize that my being loud is just the Texan pride within me. The spirit to share, care and do so in a BIG way. I mean everything’s bigger in Texas right personalities, fish, the number of Texas-themed tattoos my brother can fit on one arm, you name it. Texas is such a special place I find it hard to articulate how being Texan makes you feel like you’re part of something special. Steven Rinella once said I love Texas sure it’s a show-offy state but every time I do look in its direction I’m impressed if you tend to look at things from a woods, water, and wild food perspective as I do Texas Pride starts to make a lot of sense and there’s nothing wrong with pride as long as it leads to a tendency to share the source of that pride rather than hog it and bottle it up. Wanting to share that pride with past and future generations of Texans is one BIG reason that I am Texan by Nature.

  2. What Makes Me Texan By Nature – Brandice Nelson

    Leave a Comment

    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.


  3. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Abby McGee

    Leave a Comment

    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

  4. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Blair Stewart

    Leave a Comment

    By Blair Stewart, Texan by Nature Intern

    My family likes to tell people that I’ve always been a Texan, I just didn’t always know it. And I must admit: I agree.

    Texas has a magnetic quality about it. From the ancient and nomadic People of Pecos to the first Anglo-American settlers, for thousands of years people have been drawn to Texas’ pristine waters, fertile soil, and natural abundance. I am another of those wanderers who found myself in Texas, saw what it had to offer, and decided to call it home.

    Throughout my childhood, I lived many places, but nature was a constant. I was born in the Rocky Mountains, sailed through my summers on Lake Michigan, spent endless hours exploring the white beaches and barrier islands of the Florida Gulf Coast, and came of age fly-fishing the rivers of lower Appalachia. My grandmother, who dedicated much of her life to protecting the Indiana Dunes long before they gained national recognition, taught me the basics of gardening, the ecological significance of indigenous plants, the importance of the “leave no trace” ethic, and the necessity for ecosystem management. My dad, a hunter and fisherman who grew up in the wilderness of North Georgia, believed without qualification in the essential role of sportsmen in preserving wild spaces, managing wildlife, and being a conscious steward of the land. Due to both of their influences, I’ve always felt like my connection to nature was one of the defining characteristics of my life.

    As I got older, the scope of my interests and intentions began to solidify, and I found myself seeking a purpose through service. This led me to West Point, believing that a career in the military would allow me to affect meaningful change and provide me the fulfillment that I sought. Additionally, my wanderlust grew, and I began traveling the world in pursuit of both understanding and adventure.

    In college, I focused my studies on urban development, the complex vulnerabilities of populations in sub-Saharan Africa, and community-led solutions for change and development. Upon graduation from West Point, I became a Military Intelligence officer and dedicated the next several years towards issues of national security and dominance in the great power competition, working both in Afghanistan and at home.

    Eventually, my military career brought me to San Antonio, and this is where my relationship with Texas began.

    Soon after I moved here, my (now) husband and I decided upon the goal of visiting all 88 Texas State Parks and Natural Areas. Along our travels, I became enamored by this unique and diverse land, which abounds with beauty from the tall, dense forests of the Pineywoods to the karst wonderlands of Hill County, from the Trans-Pecos’ vast deserts and immense skies to the dramatic landscapes of the High Plains’ caprock canyons. I also fell in love with the vibrance of the cities— seemingly always illuminated with festivities— and the convergence of cultures that brings with it diversity of experience, thought, (and fantastic food). Additionally, I began to foster a deep appreciation for the less glamorous parts of Texas, those small ranching and refinery towns around which Texas’ economy— and that of the United States—relies.

    The one thing that struck me immediately about Texas was that regardless of where you are in the state, the spirit is the same. It’s the spirit, passed down through generations, of a proud and tough people who are ready to take on any challenge and eager to make their mark on the world.

    As I pursue a direction for the next chapter of my life, service is still at the forefront of my mind. But I find myself wanting to plant roots, too, and Texas feels like home in a way that no other place ever has. I also find myself drawn back to my relationship with nature and aware of the immediacy of issues related to our limited and threatened natural resources. Our nation will face many challenges at the nexus of climate change, energy independence, and national security in the coming decades, and I believe that Texas has a critical role in shaping our collective future.

    I take solace is knowing that Texans have what it takes to face the challenges of this generation and beyond, and I have every intention of doing my part to help us face these challenges.

    Texans’ can-do spirit—which makes anything possible— resonates with my own, and that’s what makes me Texan by Nature.




  5. Lights Out Texas 2022 Spring Recap Blog

    Leave a Comment

    Lights Out Texas is a campaign of education, awareness, and action that focuses on turning out lights at night during the Spring and Fall migrations to help protect the billions of migratory birds that fly over Texas annually. The goal of Lights Out Texas is to reduce migratory bird mortality by increasing statewide participation at the business, local official, municipal, and community levels, as well as collecting and reporting data.

    This effort was originally launched in 2017 by Houston Audubon and American National Insurance Company following a major bird collision event involving 400 birds in Galveston. Right around this time, Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed their BirdCast migration forecast maps using historical radar data. Later, Lights Out Texas took hold in Dallas-Fort Worth, led by Texas Conservation Alliance, The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and Dallas Zoo with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Colorado State University supporting efforts and Texan by Nature helping with outreach in Fall 2020. Throughout 2021, Texan by Nature (TxN) collaborated with these leading organizations to facilitate Lights Out Texas at the statewide level in order to standardize the approach to messaging, communication, and volunteer efforts across all Texas organizations. In 2022, the management of Lights Out Texas for Spring of 2022 was co-facilitated by Texan by Nature and Audubon Texas, with a total transition of the statewide initiative to Audubon Texas in the Summer of 2022.

    As fall bird migration quickly approaches, please save the date for going lights out at night:

    • Full Fall Migration Period: August 15 – November 30
    • Critical Peak Migration Period: September 5 – October 29

    We hope you will join us in turning out lights at night from 11 pm to 6 am throughout fall migration and celebrate the success from spring bird migration below.

    Spring 2022 Lights Out Texas Campaign by the Numbers

    • Social media and outreach toolkits were distributed to 115+ conservation organizations across Texas.Outreach to media outlets resulted in  67 earned media placements receiving 680,846,200 impressions.
    •  627 earned social media posts reached 9,055,537 accounts, receiving 51,823 likes/reactions and 8,419 shares.
    • Through email outreach efforts, 800+ businesses operating in Texas were targeted with Lights Out Texas messaging and 57 businesses confirmed participation in turning out lights at night for migrating birds.
    • 11 cities and 2 counties made proclamations.
    • Individuals, municipalities, and businesses made 440 Lights Out Texas pledges through Texas Conservation Alliance’s Lights Out for Wildlife Certification, and an additional 299 pledges were made with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
    • Four organizations conducted on-the-ground volunteer efforts to understand bird-building collisions, 124 people contributed 1,212 volunteer hours and documented 362 bird casualties.

    Media Highlights

    Check out these social media posts, quotes, and articles featuring Lights Out Texas from this past spring.

    City of Dallas Proclamation- Mayor Johnson: On Earth Day, Mayor Johnson proclaims ‘Lights Out Nights’ in Dallas to help migratory birds,” was featured on medium.com  

    Conservation Organizations

    Conservation organizations across Texas conducted volunteer efforts in conjunction with Lights Out Texas to better understand bird-building collisions and bird-migration dynamics. Texas A&M University, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Oklahoma State University, Texan by Nature, Houston Audubon, Texas Conservation Alliance, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and Travis Audubon collaborated to develop standardized volunteer guides and training videos to guide statewide efforts.

    Municipal Participation

    Eleven cities and two counties across Texas made Lights Out Texas proclamations:

    • City of Austin* (Spring 2022)
    • City of Buda (Spring 2022)
    • City of Dallas* (Spring 2022)
    • City of Dripping Springs* (Perpetually) 
    • City of Fort Worth* (Spring 2022)
    • City of Houston (Spring 2022)
    • City of Kyle (Spring 2022)
    • League City Texas (Spring 2022)
    • City of San Marcos (Spring 2022)
    • City of Wimberly (Spring 2022)
    • City of Woodcreek (Spring 2022)
    • Hays County (Spring 2022) 
    • Travis County* (Spring 2022)

    *These cities made proclamations in Fall 2021 as well.

    Texas Conservation Alliance Volunteers

    Thank You!

    A special thank you to Heather Prestridge, Curator, Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology at Texas A&M University for providing support, expertise, and expediting permits and sub permits needed for volunteers to collect specimens and to Tania Homayoun, Ph.D, Texas Nature Trackers Biologist at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for support, expertise, and for creating an iNaturalist project for Lights Out Texas.

    A big thank you goes out to the following organizations that made Lights Out Texas possible for the 2021 Spring campaign:

    Lights Out Texas Founding and Coordinating Organizations

    Lights Out Texas Supporting Organizations


    Houston & Gulf Coast

    Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex

    San Antonio

    West Texas



    Learn More

    In 2022, the management of Lights Out Texas for Spring of 2022 was co-facilitated by Texan by Nature and Audubon Texas, with a total transition of the statewide initiative to Audubon Texas in the Summer of 2022. Learn more and see the latest Lights Out Texas Resources at tx.audubon.org/urbanconservation/lights-out-texas 

  6. What Makes Me Texan By Nature – Neema Mugofwa

    Leave a Comment

    By Neema Mugofwa, Texan by Nature Intern






    For me, Texas has always been home. No matter where I go, Texas is the place I’m most excited to get back to. I grew up in Cedar Park, going to feed the ducks at the Arboretum, begging for endless rides on the Zilker Zephyr, and stomping out new trails on the preserved land behind our house. Texas is the first place I learned to miss, and every time I’m away the Texas-sized well in my heart slowly empties until I return and can refill it with hours in the Texas sun.

    I went to boarding school for high school in Carpinteria, CA; a small, slow beach town that’s 15 minutes from Santa Barbara and home to the California Avocado Festival. The school was a tight-knit community on top of a hill, with mountains to the east and the ocean to the west. It was there that I went on my first backpacking trip, tended to the garden on campus, and ate honey from the hive run by the beekeeping club. Moving away from home at 14 is a pretty big step, but if Texas has taught me anything it’s that bigger is better.

    After fourteen years in the suburbs and four by the beach, my next stop had to be a city. I chose to go to school in the heart of Washington D.C.; a city so different from what I knew, but still allows me access to the dirt and fresh air I so need. I’m majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Science and minoring in Data Science with the hope that I can transfer the knowledge I gain in the classroom to give back and protect the nature that recharges me.

    We all know that everything is bigger in Texas, and I think that’s part of why I don’t shy away from big changes. Embracing the “big” is the Texas way. This doesn’t mean that we should disregard the small things. Instead, they become that much more important. Just like in nature, the big picture cannot be complete without each of its parts working together. From the bees to the trees to the humans that occupy any natural space, we all have to do our part to ensure the health and longevity of our planet. 

    Texan by Nature does just that. We embrace the big challenge of merging conservation and business by lifting up smaller initiatives that work towards a shared goal. Our mission is to make Texas more invested in conservation and sustainable development through innovation and entrepreneurship. Tackling the big by appreciating the small.

    The relationship I have with Texas is symbiotic. It has given me a home that I know well but about which I will always have more to learn, and in return, I will work to maintain the natural qualities that I, and many others, take pride in. That’s what makes me Texan by Nature.

  7. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Kayla Gillen

    Leave a Comment

    By Kayla Gillen, Texan by Nature Intern

    Playing in the bluebonnets.

    It seems I have always reflected upon the impact that “place” has on formulating personhood and personality. I was born in Austin to parents who had moved down from the plainlands of Kansas in search of a warm and inviting place to start a family and make some memories. The earliest moments in my first home were not too out of the ordinary: running through the fountains made by sprinklers in the prime of summer, flying endlessly and weightlessly on the swingsets at the park, and the smell of sunscreen slathered on at the pool. Most of these moments were tied together by a backdrop that characterizes Texas nature: the blue skies without a single cloud, the beating sun on the asphalt, and the relief of a shady oak tree or cold spring water.

    Later on, we moved just north of Austin to the Hill Country, where houses swam in a sea of green trees and the drives were fun. Each summer, I went to camp, and despite my protests to be indoors (there always seemed to be a heat warning), I made close friends and learned about the joys of telling stories on a hike in the woods or playing on the slides in the lake. One night in Girl Scouts, we got to spend the night at a zoo, seeing nocturnal animals awake and lively. I held snakes and saw an armadillo scurry around the room. I absolutely fell in love with the wildlife of my state.

    My love for adventure both locally and globally grew as I got older. As we traveled, my parents began to take my family snorkeling, changing my life and fostering the confidence I needed to become my own explorer. I fell in love with marine life and the feeling of being underwater. I knew then that all these experiences with the environment in the background would play a large part in finding my future direction.

    Leaving Austin proved to be extremely difficult for me, as I packed my bags to move up north to Boston (and to the cold!) for college. At Northeastern University, I am studying Environmental Engineering, and hoping to minor in ecology with a focus on Marine Biology. I am interested in using technology to enhance conservation and optimize the positive effects that humans have on their surrounding world. Even in my new environment, I think about how grateful I am to have been shaped by Texas from the start. It is hard not to miss the beautiful starry night and day trips across the state that filled me with wonder and curiosity.

    This deep wonder, curiosity, and long-lasting connection to the place that I call home, is what makes me Texan by Nature.

  8. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Nicole Roy

    Leave a Comment

    By Nicole Roy, Texan by Nature Conservation Programs Intern

    Wildlife and nature are central to the unique culture and history of Louisiana and Texas. It is a large part of who I am, and that’s what makes me Texan by Nature. When I was a little girl, I lived on this short, dead-end street. The end of the street opens up into Bayou Teche, a murky brown waterway whose slow-moving current matches the easy-going lifestyle of the Cajun and Creole people who live there. My Mommom (my grandmother) and my Mommy lived next door to each other on that dead-end street, and my GrandMarie (my great-grandmother), with her vegetable garden, lived one street over – three generations of strong, intelligent Creole women within walking distance located in the small town of New Iberia, Louisiana.

    When I slept at my grandmother’s house, I would wake up and peek through the blinds of my mom’s old bedroom, hoping to spot an alligator sunbathing on the banks of Bayou Teche about a mile away. Sometimes I was able to catch a glimpse of an alligator’s big, green tail slipping back into the water! I loved living in Louisiana!

    After I graduated from high school, I moved to Texas to attend The University of Texas at Austin. I was excited to embark on this new chapter and engage with another place’s culture, but a part of me was reluctant to leave my home state. Southern Louisiana celebrates their natural environment, such as seafood, sugarcane, and alligators with festivals, parades, and balls all year long. There is no place like it! 

    However, my fascination and love for Austin and Texas have grown exponentially during my five years here. Austin is my new home! Its entrepreneurial spirit is carefully balanced with a beautiful and diverse natural landscape, like the canyon waterfall at Westcave. I love finding new nature spots nestled within the bustling metropolitan area. Last summer, my mom, younger sister, and I rented a one night stay at a tiny, eco-friendly treehouse in Spicewood, Texas, just outside of Austin.

    Living at or below sea level for most of my life, I was not used to the slight rise in elevation when we drove to the treehouse. My ears were hurting the whole way! As we walked across the drawbridge up to our treehouse, it was so humid from the frequent rain showers. (Now, humidity…that’s something I am very familiar with!) The light rain misted over the thick canopy of trees and our treehouse, creating a tranquil and private space for us to eat cold pizza, sit outside, and simply be. I am at peace when I’m in nature, and I want to make it my life’s work to preserve these beautiful spaces. That’s what makes me Texan by Nature.

    While studying at UT, I combined my Chemistry and Plan II Honors (a rigorous interdisciplinary program) degrees to explore the field of conservation. My honors thesis Gator Neighbor analyzed the social history of alligators in southern Louisiana, and it discussed the environmental laws, science research, and conservation projects that saved the species from the brink of extinction. In my thesis, I also emphasized the importance of including diverse groups of people, like me, in America’s conservation story because they, too, have an established relationship with nature and wildlife. As a recent graduate, I am eager to transfer my knowledge and skills from school and continue working in the field of conservation at Texan by Nature. In the future, I plan to return to UT’s campus and attend their law school so that I can expand my professional capabilities even further to protect our natural environment for future generations as an environmental lawyer. 

  9. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Anna-Kay Reeves

    Leave a Comment

    By Anna-Kay Reeves, Texan by Nature Programs Intern

    The grassy expanse of the Llano Estacado region stretches around my hometown of Amarillo, Texas. My family jokes that it takes a special type to make it on the dry and windy plains. That is true enough for the region’s native flora and fauna, which develop strong root systems and can survive with relatively little water. Growing up, there was no better place to see the natural beauty of the region than the Palo Duro Canyon, a 25 minute drive from town. Though I have visited the Palo Duro Canyon many times, each time I make the journey, there is a sense of awe in the moment when the seemingly endless plains disappear into the country’s second largest canyon.

    When I moved to Austin to attend The University of Texas, it became apparent that the drought-tolerant mesquite trees and prairie grasses that made up my image of the natural Texas landscape were a world apart from the lush and humid Hill Country. A flowing creek or small pond is still a joyous sight to me, because years in a semiarid climate prone to drought gave me a lasting appreciation for water. Clean water in the right places shared sustainably amongst the plants, animals, and people that need it, that is.

    However, I didn’t always have such a clear understanding of the types of water that are worth being excited about. As an International Relations, Spanish, and English triple major, conservation was an interest I held apart from my career at first. As I learned more about how people around the world relate to each other through trade and technology, the devastating impacts of not making conservation and the environment a priority became clear.

    In the history and literature I studied, I learned not only the ways human cultures connect to nature and natural resources, but also how failure to conserve natural resources and failure to consider sustainability in business models threatens the environment, human rights, and the economy. It was evident that exploitation and mismanagement of resources were at the core of many regional and global crises, from military conflicts to water shortages. These realizations expanded my view of conservation and the impacts it can have, and I wanted in on this world-saving work.

    Texan by Nature is at the vanguard of the future of economic and environmental cooperation, and I am happy to join them in doing the work it takes to keep economies functional without making our world uninhabitable. Cooperation between business and conservation is awe-inspiring, because it’s what protects the natural world and the other moments of awe that come with exploring it. Putting in the work to take care of our state is what makes me Texan by Nature.


  10. What Makes Me Texan by Nature- Elena Gehle

    Leave a Comment

    By Elena Gehle, Texan by Nature Programs Intern

    What makes me Texan by Nature? The short answer is that I was born here and love this great state. The long answer is, well…

    22 years ago, I was truly blessed to be born a Texan. I don’t come from a long bloodline of Texans- my mom was born and raised in Tlaxcala, Mexico, and my dad was born in New York, but spent much of his childhood growing up in various Latin American countries. Nevertheless, Texas became our home, and what a beautiful home it’s been. I was raised in Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston. Luckily for me, I grew up right before the iPhone era, so most of my childhood was spent outdoors looking for creatures or playing with friends. My parents frequently took my brother and I fishing and hiking, and they always encouraged us to enjoy and respect nature.  I was (and still am) one of those kids that had an obsession with animals. My poor mom had to endure me bringing a plethora of animals home- whether it be a toad, snake, or spider, I was fascinated with creatures of all shapes and sizes. Heck, I even kept mosquito larvae as pets (I know, weird). I wanted to learn as much as I could about nature, and spent lots of time reading books about animals, and drawing and writing about nature. Every time I wanted a new pet, I would make a PowerPoint presentation explaining the care of the animal and why it was so cool to try and convince my parents to let me get it. I must have been a pretty convincing little kid, because I was fortunate to grow up with and love many animals throughout my childhood. Our beagles Buddy and Molly were the best friends a kid could hope for, and they were always by our side, ready to play, explore, and eat every piece of food we dropped.

    When I was 8 years old, my parents bought 5 acres of land a few miles away from Brazos Bend State Park. The land was quite rugged and untouched with thick vegetation and an overgrown lake, and the only buildings were a little shack, an outhouse, and a big metal roof. I remember walking around it for the first time in awe of all of the life I saw around me. It was home for a myriad of animals- white-tailed deer, barred owls, praying mantises, amphiumas, and big fat largemouth bass, just to name a few. There were also many potentially dangerous species, such as cottonmouths, coral snakes, bobcats, coyotes, alligator snapping turtles, and the occasional alligator too. My dad taught me that even though they were “scary” and could be harmful, we should respect them because this was their home too, and they all had a role in the ecosystem. Rather than clear the land and kill the dangerous species, my dad decided to let a lot of the land be, so that the habitat for all these amazing animals could be preserved. We learned to be aware and observant of our surroundings so we could coexist with the natural world around us and stay safe, and I have carried this lesson with me throughout my life. However, I was also a kid, and kids will be kids. My brother and I would canoe and swim in the murky little lake, despite knowing good and well that there were snakes and big ol’ snapping turtles and other creepy critters. I would climb up trees and swing off of them using vines, which often snapped, thus launching me straight to the ground. However to this day, I somehow avoided getting bit, stung, or seriously injured *knock on wood*. 

    About a year after buying the land, I got to live out every little girl’s dream- we got two horses, Bijoux and Tiffany. I felt like a real Texan cowgirl learning to ride them and care for them, which involved shoveling so much poop. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed going to work on and take care of the land, and it never felt like a chore. Over the years, we have had so many great experiences there, and have gotten to show many friends and family the joys of the outdoors. That land was, and still is, heaven to me. Every time I go it feels like an adventure, and I will always cherish the memories I have there. I hope that despite encroaching development of the area, that I will be able to protect the land and all of the life it sustains for years to come.

    In high school, I was part of a foreign exchange program with a high school in Foshan, China. During my freshman, junior, and senior years my family hosted students from Foshan, and during my sophomore year, I got to travel to Foshan, China. The students that came had preconceived ideas about what Texas and Texans were like, many of which were surprisingly positive. They thought Texas was a place of great opportunity, and many of the students were already big fans of U.S. sports teams, especially the Houston Rockets. And of course they thought many Americans would be plus-sized (so what? The food is amazing in Texas). It was so fun to get to show them around our school and take them to Rockets games, many restaurants, George Ranch, Brazos Bend State Park, and Galveston, among other places. One thing that really stood out to them was how diverse Texans truly are, and how friendly everyone is. It made me proud to live in a state where no matter who you are or where you are from, you are welcome. I made many lifelong friends, and lots of the students I met through the program ended up coming to Texas universities for college. Texas is truly a land of opportunity, and it is important to ensure that Texans of all backgrounds are able to enjoy these opportunities and bring innovation to our great state.


    I am currently entering my final year at the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘em!), and am majoring in Economics and minoring in Business and Chinese. If I am not studying, I am out exploring Austin or visiting my family and the land. My yellow lab Piper is the light of my life, and I hope to take her to explore all of Texas’ great state parks. I am truly at my happiest when I am outdoors, and still love going fishing, hiking, and riding. I’m very excited to get to travel more once it is safe to, especially to China so that I can truly test out my Chinese!


    Although our state is great, there are still many issues facing Texas wildlife and Texans themselves. Extreme weather and hurricanes have destroyed homes and habitats and taken lives. Habitats are diminishing as development increases and pollution and waste continue. Economic swings have caused many Texans to lose their jobs and struggle to provide for their families. Political and racial tensions continue to divide Texans. Coronavirus has deeply impacted people and businesses across the world. The list goes on and on. But we Texans are tough, hard working people. We are resilient, and will continue to come up with innovative solutions to make our state even better. It is so important to remember and believe that we as individuals can make a real difference. Making small changes in our own lives, whether it be deciding to volunteer in your community, learning more about sustainability, or simply deciding to be more open and let yourself learn from others different from you, can make a huge impact in your community. I am so grateful to be a part of the team at Texan by Nature and work to make a positive impact in Texas communities and our natural world.