13 Chapters
Medium 9781603442015

A Taste of the Marsh

Ken W Kramer Texas A&M University Press ePub

Susan Raleigh Kaderka

AS we walked down to the saltmarsh near the observation tower on Mad Island Marsh Preserve, Cathy Porter bent over and broke off a sprig of saltwort, a spiky succulent that grows in clumps by the water’s edge. “Taste it,” she said, offering me a piece and putting a bit into her own mouth. It was an idle gesture, something she’s probably done countless times leading groups of schoolchildren on tours of this 7,000-acre Nature Conservancy preserve. She had been naming off the various species of marsh vegetation for me—seablight, Gulf cordgrass, saltmarsh bulrush—and just come across one worth tasting.

True to its name, the plant tasted salty. As Porter no doubt points out to visiting students, it is well adapted to the conditions of the Texas Gulf Coast, thriving near salt water in a sandy soil. But as I chewed it, a different landscape suddenly came to mind. For a moment, I was back in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, where I lived up to the age of six.

Like most children growing up in the late 1950s, I spent almost all of my free time outdoors. This habit was not evidence of any special affinity for nature. It did not prefigure my later work in wildlife conservation. It was not unique to me at all; it was what everyone did. Childhood pretty much took place out of doors. If you were indoors, it meant it was raining, or nighttime, or, later, that you were in school. Even in winter we played outdoors, bundled up in hooded snowsuits, rubber boots, and mittens. Snapshots of my sister and me in the snowy field opposite our house show us smiling out at the camera from jackets so thick our arms stuck out from our sides. But unquestionably we were outside.

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Medium 9781603442015

On the Banks of the Bayous Preserving Nature in an Urban Environment

Ken W Kramer Texas A&M University Press ePub

Mary Ellen Whitworth

AS I sit on the banks of Buffalo Bayou waiting for the bats to emerge at Waugh Street Bridge, it is hard to imagine that this bayou was once the source of drinking water for the city of Houston. Early settlers pumped the springs dry, polluted the bayou, and logged the beautiful magnolias that lined the banks. Today, during dry weather, the sediment-laden flow is mostly treated wastewater effluent.

Yet a canoe trip down this bayou still reveals its hidden beauty. Although rare, a few large forested tracts remain, such as those at Memorial Park and St. Mary’s Seminary. These provide much-needed habitat for the variety of birds and mammals that depend on the bayou. Pines and oaks line the remaining banks, which are still subject to severe erosion. As the bayou winds through downtown, thanks to the work of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the banks have been “laid back” and planted to add beauty and protection. The water quality still does not meet state standards for protecting the health of people recreating in the water, but it is good enough to support a wide variety of fish and bottom-dwelling organisms. Raccoons, possums, armadillos, rabbits, coyotes, and alligators have all been spotted on the banks.

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Texas Rivers and Tributaries

Ken W Kramer Texas A&M University Press ePub

I HAVE photographed the living waters of Texas for over twenty years, but at the beginning of my photography career I was more interested in places like the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and the mysterious slot canyons of southeastern Utah. I took pictures in Texas only when I stopped to rest during the long trips out west. But as the good images piled up, I found the streams and springs of my home state, from the West Fork of the Frio River or the wetlands of Aransas Wildlife Refuge to the Neches River bottomlands and the watery canyons of Big Bend Ranch State Park, to be the most extraordinary places of all. And I know there is much more to be found on private land, like a waterfall I have seen in deep East Texas that has never been photographed and doesn’t even have a name.

Yet just as Edward Curtis photographed the “vanishing Indians” one hundred years ago, I sense that I am photographing the vanishing waters of Texas. The Rio Grande in Big Bend is now more like the “Rio Poco,” the Middle Fork of the Pease River has dried up, and Jacob’s Well in the Hill Country stopped flowing for the first time in 2000. Larry McKinney, in his 1973 essay “Troubled Water,” states that “of the original 31 large springs (in Texas), only 17 remain. None of those springs stopped flowing because of natural causes.”

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Texas Water Politics Forty Years of Going with the Flow

Ken W Kramer Texas A&M University Press ePub

Ken Kramer

EVEN after forty years I can still visualize it. The “it” is the cover of the first issue of the biweekly Texas Observer I had ever seen. The year was 1969, and I had just embarked on my first graduate school experience—starting work on a master’s degree in political science at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches in East Texas. The professor in one of my classes had offered his students the opportunity to participate in a class subscription to the Observer, a liberal journal of opinion that provided exceptional coverage of Texas politics and government (and still does). Although I was a Republican at the time, I was extremely interested in politics, and, political philosophy aside, the Observer was touted as a good source of information about the state’s political comings and goings; so I signed up to receive one of the copies twice a month.

As it turns out, that was a momentous decision in my life—although not perhaps recognizable as such at the time. The first issue of the Observer I saw was devoted in its entirety to something called the “Texas Water Plan”—about which I knew nothing although I was already interested in environmental issues. The cover, which struck me so profoundly, showed a cartoon of several leading state officials, including then former governor John Connally and then governor Preston Smith, waterskiing or otherwise frolicking in or around some body of water. These folks were promoting this thing called the Texas Water Plan.

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Hooked on Rivers

Ken W Kramer Texas A&M University Press ePub

Myron J. Hess

I LOVE being outdoors. Those rare times when I am able to step back from the frenzied pace of everyday life and feel in rhythm with nature give me an incredible sense of peace, of calmness. And, if you throw in a flowing river or stream, I can get close to achieving a state of nirvana. The love of nature came early. The appreciation of the special role of flowing streams developed a bit later.

As the youngest of seven children growing up in Cooke County in rural North Texas near the Oklahoma border at a time when TV watching was still an occasional event and computer games were science fiction material, I spent the bulk of my early childhood outside. When my siblings were home, I followed them around as much as they would let me. When they had all started school and I was still at home, the yard became my preschool and kindergarten classroom. Fortunately for me, farmyards can be incredibly interesting places: chickens and ducks to observe, ground squirrels and lizards to stalk, insects and toads to catch, and bird and mouse nests to discover. I think my dad was relieved to see me start school so he didn’t have to spend so much of his time answering my questions about what I had found or seen, and he could get back to farming full time.

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