Eileen Berger Indian Trail Master Naturalist
It is always important to know where we have been, to know the history of a subject, before we endeavor to improve or correct it. As Master Naturalists, we read animal guides, books about conservation, those on creating “wildscapes” and water-wise gardens as well as histories about what this land was like before settlements by our forefathers and mothers. One of the first books that I picked up from our library at the AgriLife office was Adventures with a Texas Naturalist by Roy Bedichek. The premise, taking a year off to really “get back to nature”, is one that we naturalists can all identify with.
Roy lived from 1878 until 1959. He was born in Illinois, but moved with his family to the community of Eddy in Falls County, Texas in 1884. He attended the University of Texas and received a B.S. in 1903. He was employed as a reporter, taught school, and edited several magazines. In 1910 he married Lillian Greer, and the couple had three children. In 1917 he began work with the University Interscholastic League and eventually became its director. As the director, he traveled all over Texas visiting schools. Since there were not many hotels or other forms of lodging in these small towns, he began camping out. He soon became interested in wildlife and nature, especially birds. Even though he had no formal training about wildlife, he became an expert. His gift of journalism made him a natural advocate for nature conservation. Two other important names in Texas’ literary history, J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb, were his close friends. In 1946 they encouraged him to take a year’s leave of absence in seclusion to write about nature and man’s influences on the natural world. This was not a new idea, as Henry David Thoreau had set the example in the early 1800’s. Webb owned a ranch south of Austin which he offered as a retreat. Bedichek accepted the offer and the result was Adventures with a Texas Naturalist.
His introduction explains the reason for the year’s leave, and then goes on to describe the lodging arrangements and provisions for visitors. His easy manner of writing reads as if he were sitting in a comfortable chair near the listener, recounting amusing and not so amusing tales. Our influence on nature since early settlement in the mid 1800’s is always revealed through his critical eye. Man has indeed “conquered” the land here in Texas as well as the rest of the continent. Now we are experiencing the “spoils” of that war.
The book is humorous, entertaining and thought-provoking. Bedichek was a true student of the classics, and knew the Greek philosophers, as well as famous English writers and poets. He wrote chapters on fences, chickens, a holiday in the Davis Mountains, folk names of birds and flowers, mockingbirds and killers, to name a few. He quotes poetry and wise statements, as well as anecdotal stories that will make you chuckle. It must be remembered that he was writing this in l946, a time just after WWII, and a few of his stories would not be politically correct today. Educated readers already know this, and readers of history have no problem placing this in the context of the time it was written. Subjects were treated with respect and should cause no offense.
I highly recommend this book to those readers who love Texas history, nature, and a good story, since you will find all three in large quantity.