Not a half-hour into my daylong adventure, in the middle of a prairie of sea lavender and leatherleaf, I stopped my bike in wonder. A few dozen yards from the pavement, dozens of sandhill cranes comingled with a flock of ivory snow geese, completely ignoring my entrance into this unspoiled
My son Byrdie had been anticipating our planned visit to the Alamo Inn B&B for weeks. The two of us have been birding ever since Byrdie, then two years old, pulled down an unused field guide from the bookshelf and asked me to read it to him as a bedtime
TEXAS HIGHWAYS / NOVEMBER 2016
Natural wonders and border culture in Starr County.
When nature enthusiasts think of the Rio Grande Valley, they most often picture the glimmering resacas and moss-hung forests of destinations like the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. But venturing farther upriver, away from the large cities and the tropical influence of the Gulf Coast, one finds a strikingly different landscape of rolling ranchland, sheer bluffs, and Old West frontier towns.
The last time I took a biology class, I was in high school, and the experience basically consisted of memorizing a whole lot of names of seemingly random things (body parts, kingdoms of life, names of diseases) which I wrote down on a test and then forgot. That was pretty much my idea of what school science is…and then I married a science teacher. My wife Laura is always impressing upon me the importance of authentic experiences in science education. Just as I try have my English students write for real audiences (not just the teacher!), she strives to have students working on real scientific problems that scientists haven’t already figured out. So when the Sierra Club asked if I’d be interested in writing an article to mark the 100th anniversary of our National Parks, Laura was the one who suggested a possible topic: Had I heard about citizen science? I had, but only vaguely–I knew it was something about park visitors doing something to help out scientists. But the projects I learned about in the course of my research are much more than that. They’re what I always imagined science could be, but often isn’t: Real life adventures whose aim is no less than to make the world a better place. To find out more (or even to join one such project), read on…
Just up on Texas Highways is another piece I wrote about birding with kids, this one featuring McAllen’s “mansion with a mission” Quinta Mazatlan. It’s part of a department called “Souvenir” that features travel stories based on a particular object you’ve brought home from a place of personal significance. In our family’s case, it was a hummingbird feeder that I bought for my son Byrdie’s fourth birthday, and that let us bring his favorite thing in the world (at the time, at least) home with us–the birds.
TEXAS HIGHWAYS / APRIL 2015
A family bird walk at Estero Llano Grande State Park.
Like many children on the autism spectrum, Byrdie is inclined toward highly specific interests. And ever since he pulled down an unused Birds of Texas guide from the bookshelf and asked me and my wife Laura to read it as a bedtime story, birds have been his greatest passion. By the time he was two-and-a-half, he could already identify 300 species, leading our family on an unexpected birding odyssey that has taken us from our home in the Rio Grande Valley to the north woods of Wisconsin.