We humans often depend on opposites for our frame of reference. We are glad when we feel well because we know what it is like to be sick. We cherish those we love because we have known loss. And so, in a time of fear and uncertainty, the things we are thankful for come into sharp focus. There are things that seem essential to us, which may be lost, and we hold them all the closer because we know how few promises we have about tomorrow.
When it comes to the natural world, I am very thankful for Mary’s Creek after spring rains, when the water runs clear over layers of pale limestone, and the sun shines a radiant blessing on the fresh green growth. The place has nurtured and sustained me for over fifty years, on and off, with its amazing community of living things. I have waded the creek in the happy company of friends, and I’ve walked it alone in quiet appreciation, and it is a comfortable old friend. I am also thankful for that place on still autumn days when the sun is bright but shadows are long, and you can watch a cottonwood leaf slowly float along the surface of a pool.
I am also thankful for the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, a place I have also counted as a sort of second home for around fifty years. Every walk down the trail through the oak woodlands is a renewal, and every time I make my way down the old road through the bottomlands is like going to church. It is like church in its quiet strength, a place where one can reflect and be at peace among the tall trees. This is especially true in the winter, when the multicolored carpet of leaves and maze of tree trunks creates visual patterns of great beauty. Occasionally a crow breaks the stillness with a caw that echoes through the woods, and if you are lucky you might see an owl.
There are so many natural places in Texas, and I count myself very lucky to have visited so many of them. If I gave thanks every day, it would hardly seem sufficient for the days and nights spent in the Big Bend, seeing Palo Duro Canyon on a hike up the Rock Garden trail, walking through the Big Thicket, wading the headwaters of the Guadalupe River, and many other experiences.
And I have been very fortunate to have been in good company on many of these trips. Steve Campbell was a good friend to be in the field with, and many of us miss him greatly. Clint King is the little brother I never had, and finding such a like-minded, skilled and trustworthy field trip partner is a very great gift.
We have our time to explore, try to understand, and do our best to protect these places, and one day it is time for a new generation to inherit the land. Will they see what we see, and love what we love? It is a fervent, desperate wish that, having done what we can to share and teach, young people will be ready to be stewards of those places in nature that remain. We have lost a great deal; for example, only a tiny fraction of real tallgrass prairie can still be found, forests are cleared for pastureland, and oil and gas wells are sprinkled over more and more of the state. Relentless population growth and desire for energy and money threaten the plant and animal communities that sustain life. Nature needs people to fight for it, with their time, their voices, and their contributions. Today more than ever, it seems that we need more people than we’ve got, with more time and energy than we can spare, to keep the losses to a minimum.
And so, I am especially thankful for the bright and curious young people whose sense of wonder will keep them connected to nature. I’m thankful for Symantha, whose enthusiasm is impossible to resist and whose devotion to wildlife helps me have faith in the future. Likewise I’m thankful for Embry, who knows how to appreciate mosquitofish trapped in a pool and who confidently found much to love in a walk through the woods. I am also very grateful for Clint’s son, Zee, who has his parents’ passion for the natural world and who I’ll bet will be a fearless advocate for nature.
This Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be thankful for, and my challenge is to remember how fortunate I have been and how lucky we all are to be able to walk through a prairie or wade through a creek. Our public lands are still there, and a good number of talented people are still employed, for now, doing what they can to maintain, restore, and protect those places. I intend to keep getting out there, and will be thankful for each additional year in which we have preserved what we can of the forests, wetlands, deserts, and grasslands.