What Makes me Texan by Nature – Natalia Rodriguez

Natalia Rodriguez

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  1. What Makes me Texan by Nature – Natalia Rodriguez

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    Natalia Rodriguez as a child on a bikeSummers in Texas cast a golden spell over my childhood. I was a fearless child, and I loved being outdoors. I got into trouble climbing trees and bringing home cicada shells that my mother didn’t want inside the house. When I wasn’t running around the neighborhood collecting bugs and riding bikes with my sisters, I enjoyed long car rides with my family traveling across the Lone Star State.

    As much as we Natalia Rodriguez as a child sitting on a treeloved to explore new places, some destinations became annual traditions. The Gatorfest in Anahuac, Texas, is one that I remember vividly. Coastal marshes were explored in hopes of catching a glimpse of an alligator. Something about this reptilian animal captured my attention early on, inspiring more trips to Brazos Bend State Park for more gator-watching.

    At Brazos Bend State Park, I turned my attention to the sky, experiencing the beauty of a dark Texas night, clustered by stars and unpolluted by city lights. George Observatory at Brazos Bend is another place I hold dear to my heart. Growing up, it marked the bittersweet finale of summer fun and a return to our busy school routines. Every August we planned one final trip to Brazos Bend to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower. At these star parties, we met kind strangers willing to share their telescopes and guide our curious eyes under the night sky. I remember such peace in these moments. I’m so thankful to have these memories connecting with my family in nature early on. It inspired my sincere appreciation for the great outdoors and the respect needed to uphold its true beauty.

    Natalia Rodriguez in front of a waterfallNow what makes me Texan by nature? Ironically, I don’t think I realized how important Texas was to my identity until I left the state for some years. Perhaps it was the ingrained “Don’t Mess with Texas” attitude I found myself sharing with newfound friends. Or maybe it was simply a longing to reconnect with the warm, helpful, and generously spirited individuals so common back home. No one is prouder of their state than Texans. Even as I reflect on this now, I struggle to pinpoint what exactly it is about us as Texans that I love.

    When I first moved to California, I was in awe of the remarkable access to nature. With the ocean and mountains at my doorstep and the perfect balance between warm and comfortable weather, many new hobbies blossomed. I enrolled in a hiking class (yes, really, a hiking class), where I learned about native plants and the significance of biodiversity conservation. Bought a national parks passport book, and I proudly added my first stamp at Yosemite, igniting a series of adventures to various national parks across the U. S. (though none in Texas yet, but I’ll get there). Most notably, I made the bold commitment to join the rowing team, dutifully attending 5:30 a.m. practices six days a week. For nearly a year, I navigated the waters of Briones Reservoir, nestled serenely behind the East Bay hills. Over the year, the water level in the reservoir visibly decreased due to California’s drought conditions. This prompted me to reassess my habits and cultivate a newfound sensibility in my lifestyle choices.

    Natalia Rodriguez in Rowing Club

    Upon my return home, Texas revealed itself to me in a new light, brimming with untapped potential. As I readjusted to the sweltering Texas summer, I recognized the necessity of putting in extra effort to engage with the outdoors. While on campus during my undergraduate studies, I became involved with the Office of Sustainability, organizing events to showcase the latest sustainability developments within our campus community and the Greater Houston Area. This experience, coupled with my volunteer work in the community, steered me towards a career in public health, solidifying my belief in the profound impact of our environment on our well-being. In the realm of public health, challenges abound, yet what remains inspiring is the ability to inspire action through conversation and reshape behaviors through education and community outreach.

    City skyline - Natalia Rodriguez

    Being Texan by nature is leading by example and an unwavering commitment to best practices even in the face of daunting challenges. Our go-getter attitude drives transformative change across communities. As my rowing coach would say, “Today’s accomplishment is tomorrow’s warm-up,” and that’s how I aspire to lead in my new role. I am eager to forge new collaborative partnerships in Houston and across our state. I am excited to have found Texan by Nature at this point in my career and join the Center for Health and Nature to engage communities in promoting well-being at the intersection of health and nature.