Sunday, March 6, 2016

And for all this, nature is never spent

Being both a native Texan and a lover of wild things is probably something akin to a gentle version of multiple personality disorder.

Texas is grand, and by that mostly I mean large. More than a quarter million square miles of forests (pine trees cover an area the size of New England), deserts (the Chihuahuan Desert is, according to the World Wildlife Fund, the most biologically diverse in the world), mountains (more than 90 over a mile high) and beaches (367 miles of them), plains, rivers, and lakes (more than 5,600 square miles of inland water, first in the lower 48).

Our beaches are not the whitest, our mountains are not the highest, and our rivers are not the most awe-inspiring ... I like to say we have a little of everything, but we don't have the best of anything.

Texas also leads the nation in crude oil and natural gas production (as well as wind energy) and refines about one-third of all the petroleum used in the country.

More than 80 percent of the land in Texas is in agricultural production, and the state leads the nation in cattle, horses, cotton, hay, sheep, goats and mohair. Mohair!

Six of the 20 largest U.S. cities (and three of the top 10) are in Texas. But there are still vast, unpeopled stretches.

In fact, the human population of the entire world could fit inside of Texas with almost exactly the same population density as New York City (scale-up Central Park, while you're at it).

All that to say, again, that Texas is big. And diverse. And well-used -- often hard-used. And despite that, wildness abounds in the most unlikely places.

Standing on the bridge deck of a tugboat smack in the middle of the Houston Ship Channel last week, I was reminded, yet again, of the words of the Victorian poet and Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins. In God's Grandeur, he writes:

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

It's true. Thrill to the peregrine falcon, stooping on a dove above a grain dock. 

See the hooded merganser happily fishing the banks of the country's busiest commercial waterway. 

Allow your heart to leap with the bottlenose dolphins hitching a ride on a boat's bow pressure wave.

All of this, in spite of our disregard, and even abuse. Nature just keeps on naturing.

*Hooded merganser and peregrine falcon photos by Aaron Gralnik, used with permission.

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