August to September of 2022 marked 10 years utilizing this blog and persona to explore the natural world and to impart, as much as feasible, the information gleaned from observations, readings, and work experience.
When I began this blog, I was still in the budding phase of my interests in plants and their habitats and how it all works and had not yet begun my professional career (which happened in 2013). Naturally, my interests then were viewed through a novel and emotional lease, as is normal of such circumstances. My views since have evolved to become matter of fact in realizing the restoration work we do—and it is an honest day’s work—pales in comparison to the damages we’ve caused. In short, it’s upsetting about those damages we’ve caused to the world’s ecosystems, but unfortunately, that’s just how it is. Time to take our losses and move on in true conservation fashion, lest we repeat our scorched history.
My interests and experiences have taken me from my boyhood sandy lands in the Western Cross Timbers of North Central Texas—the realm of the Post Oaks and the Blackjack Oaks (the last band of old growth hardwood forest at the zone of transition to tallgrass and mixedgrass prairies)—and the little bluestem range, where I spent many days and nights exploring and following wherever my youthful enthusiasm took me. A budding sense of wonder filled those years, which, over time, evolved into passion, interests, and eventually led to work in natural resources.
To Colorado’s high-country covered with iconic dog-hair stands of Lodgepole Pine, whose serotinous nature is exacerbated (for better or for worse) by the Mountain Pine Beetle, long a major agent of influence in that forest type. It is a dry and windy forest, and the wind often visits ferociously during times of fire.
To the Shortleaf Pine forests of southeastern Oklahoma, where I was introduced to the namesake pine species and a pro-prescribed fire culture in sleepy valleys of the old Ouachita Mountains and their foothills, where life is slow and good and calm. I can still hear the gentle streams and rivers wandering through the pine-clothed San Bois Mountain range.
To south central Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin Plains—a low-country area of loess-covered hills and closed watersheds—where I was introduced to one of the tallgrass prairie’s finest forbs, the compassplant, and saw just how tall big bluestem can grow in the true prairie region. I also learned much of Nebraska is not flat, and those who dismiss the state as part of “flyover country” do not know what they are missing. It is one of the most scenic states in the Great Plains.
To the high-desert and semi-desert grasslands West of the Pecos—the Trans-Pecos or Far West Texas (not “Southwestern Texas”)—where elevation and precipitation runs the game and controls the clock, and where the remoteness and the mountains surprise many visitors. This is the land where the air smells of the sweet and earthy aroma produced by old-growth creosotebush after rainfall events during the monsoon season.
And now to the Llano Estacado—one of the largest tablelands in the North American High Plains, bounded on the west and the east by dramatic, palisaded escarpments, to the north by the Canadian River valley, and to the south by the Chihuahuan Desert and the Edwards Plateau— in what has long been a grassland empire. Here, cotton remains king, yet its reign is in question as more than 70% of the 2022 cotton crop failed due to accelerated water level declines of the Ogallala Aquifer and due to the extended toll of drought (which requires pumping more of less available water). What the upland cotton previously took away from that once vast grassland, residential development now threatens what little remains and what could be restored, to remain in family domain or for enjoyment by the public.
Work in the natural resources world is one full of manic and depressive contradictions, as is any industry dominated by the fallible human. One of the impressions that has stuck with me after so long in this field is this: That we study, we observe, we reflect, we recommend, we publish, we sound alarms, and we explain why, and still the demolition continues. Or someone does the opposite of what we recommend. Or we are simply ignored during times of outreach. Yet still, we continue our work, if not for the joy of these unique and rare work environments, then at least for the simple fact that we aren’t relegated to the modern cage of slavery called the cubicle.
So, here’s to another 10 years, one year at a time. Here’s to new experiences in different ecoregions and environments. Here’s to renewed hope despite the collective pain and suffering of the last several years. Here’s to making the best of hard times and realizing that “tough times never last, but tough people do”. Here’s to welcoming and enjoying below normal winter temperatures, because for some of us, it’s the only real winter we have left anymore. Here’s to making do with what we’ve got instead of blindly hoping we can smart our way through catastrophe. Here’s to open space conservation because they’re not making any more land or wildlife species. Here’s to getting smart with water usage across the whole of society because the water cycle is increasingly broken and the water wars are on the horizon. Here’s to understanding that the “geography of hope” doesn’t mean dwelling in eternal optimism while the actions we take upon our landscapes obviously do not work in the land’s favor and are against the climatic grain. Finally, here’s to realizing that what little we have left has to work, or else.