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One of my favorite childhood memories is going to meet my grandparents at Dam B, Texas. They had an RV and would travel extensively when I was young. It was always a treat to go to this mystical place with cypress knees, green water (it was covered with algae), and all sorts of wildlife. PawPaw would bring bamboo fishing poles, made from his crop in the back yard, and I would fish, most often catching turtles. I’d break into tears,Â devastated for the poor little turtle, still not wanting to touch it. In the evenings we’d make s’mores, and I’d crawl up into the bunk space above the driver and passenger seat in the RV, cuddled with old quilts whose smell I can still remember if I try hard enough.
We weren’t the most outdoorsy family – my mom, dad, brother, sister, and I – but those early trips and the mysticism of East Texas stuck with me. The Texas Legacy Project edited by David Todd and David Weisman is a celebration of the people who allowed me to enjoy those woods and ponds, lakes and trails. The introduction begins:
The stories in this book are excerpts from informal and unscripted interviews with Texas conservationists, collected from 1997 through 2008 by the Conservation History Association of Texas. We see value in them as personal reminiscences, as citizen journeys, and as first-hand histories of conservation in Texas during the past sixty years.
Texas is a mythical place – it’s vast. It has 11 different ecological regions. Texas is the land of endless plains, mountainous regions, swamps, and beaches. Home to cowboys, oil riggers, fishermen, tobacco lawyers, and larger-than-life country music stars, Texas is a wonderful place to live.
The interviews, many of which are fascinating, suspenseful accounts worthy of a John Grisham or Steve Martini legal thriller, are divided by topics such as law enforcement, exploration, government, wildlife, religion and philosophy, education, policy, agriculture, communication, community politics, and sustainability.
Most notably for me, there was an interview with Geraldine Watson, who is legendary in my part of Texas. I live 20 minutes from the Big Thicket, one of the most fascinating ecological regions in the nation. Termed a “biological crossroads,” the Big Thicket National Preserve is home toÂ “south easternÂ swamps, eastern forests, central plains, and southwest deserts. Bogs sit near arid sandhills. Eastern bluebirdsÂ nest near roadrunners.” (National Parks Service site)
It is truly an unbelievable place, and I feel lucky to be so close to it. Geraldine Watson is a large part of why I am able to enjoy this beautiful area of Texas. As many of those interviewed confess, the fight came to Ms. Watson’s front door. Literally: “We wanted a little bit of woods for [the children]. And I put trails through it and planted azaleas and ferns and all that sort of thing. Then they decided to make a big bypass of Highway 96,and guess where they took the bypass? Right across my woods!” So Ms. Watson joins the Big Thicket Association and becomes a force to reckon with.
It is this spirit, this die-hard characteristic that struck me again and again as I read these accounts. Similar to the Erin Brokovich movie and story, this group of people goes into the underbelly of big Texas corporations and does what it must to ensure the people are safe and healthy but also that the land stays safe and healthy and productive.
The book, of course, is a niche book. It’s not for everyone, but I don’t think it’s intended to be. The book mentions several times the desire for readers to pick it up, relate to it, and maybe take away the desire to preserve this place we call home. I’ll certainly be paying attention, and in that, and in its execution, the book is a great success.
A big thanks to Holli with Texas A&M Press for getting this great book to me!
*One of the most horrifying aspects of this book was reading about clear-cutting, when companies go in and clear the land completely, selling whatever is salvageable and often leaving the land barren. It is important to note that this book is certified as Mixed Sources paper, a product group from well-managed forests, and other controlled sources. Learn more at www.fsc.org.