August 23, 2011
Written by Anna Livia from Welder Wildlife Refuge (Sinton, Tx)
INTRODUCTION to our Coastal Texas Wildlife Adventures (“The Miles Files”)
We just left College Station and the office of Miles Phillips. Our mission for the day is to reach our destination, Welder Wildlife Foundation and get settled into the dormitory housing on the wildlife refuge where Dan and I will both be volunteering for an undetermined amount of time.
Before I tell you what Dan and I are doing for Texas A & M, let me just dive into telling you a little bit about who we are. That always helps, right? I hope to answer the question, “Who are you and why do we care?”
Dan and I are both “wild” and passionate about nature, in love with wildlife and just plain obsessed with the great outdoors. Many people who have an intimate connection with nature, have their childhood to credit for this (or to blame for this, which ever way you wanna look at it. Being a nature nerd is not always the easy life, right?)
My own experience with nature began when I was a young child. It was a bit extreme from time to time actually. I wouldn’t change it for the world though. At two years old my parents traveled India by train and by foot with me on their hip. We ate lots of rice and little else, occasionally oranges, hiked in the mountains of Nepal, camped with the locals who insisted if we didn’t we’d be subject to tiger attacks and, of course, got attacked by monkeys who envied my stash of sesame candy. You get the picture.
Dan grew up on a 600 acre ranch, his life was connected intimately with nature. Because his little sister couldn’t digest cow’s milk the family got a couple of goats, and the kids, mainly Dan, would have to milk them for the family’s milk supply. Of course, this perspective is a little bit different from his mom’s. She seems to think she did all the work. Alas, the unbiased and reliable nature of the human memory! As far as nature experiences go, it doesn’t get more intimate than drinking milk freshly taken, of the morning, from your goats!
As a child, Dan was obsessed with learning everything he could about nature. He literally studied books, magazines and everything he could get his hands on about it. He liked to identify everything. When we were kids, most of us, and we stayed home sick from school, we’d just watch a little T.V. or hang out with mom, not Dan, he’d immerse himself in encyclopedias and read about plants, animals and birds! When he was a teenager he would set off with his buddies into the woods to camp for days at a time with nothing more than a fishing pole and a shot gun. They would make dinner by cooking a rabbit or fish, with side dishes of berries, bull nettles, wild grapes or passion fruit, depending on what was in season. Dan studied the local plants for foraging and eating.
At the young age of three or four, my parents settled down in Kentucky, where my life with nature wasn’t much less adventurous than it was in India. We lived in the woods in a teepee made by my mom and dad. On the edge of Kettle creek with hundreds of acres of wilderness to explore, we grew our food, washed our clothes in the stream, hung them to dry on a string tied tree-to-tree, cooked over a fire and nestled together at night and through the cold months (mom, dad, me and little brother, Uncas.) Nature was a way of life, the only way of life.
My parents were back-to-nature, flower-children of the 60’s. If we were to assign stereotypes to me and Dan. Dan would be the country boy, a true Texas cowboy and I would be a “hippie kid” from Tennessee and Kentucky. But these are just that, stereotypes. On the surface, one might say we are of different backgrounds, but in actuality we are from the same background, nature. What brought us together and much of what writes the pages and the chapters in our lives together is our intrigue and enthusiasm for nature and making nature itself,both our pursuit and our destination in life.
Dan and I have traveled together. We’ve gone from the Texas coast to the West coast and back east again, to Tennessee, never staying in a hotel room. We camped and cooked our meals on campfires, every night and every morning for weeks at a time. Our travels have taken us through the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, the Sierra Nevadas, northern California and southern Oregon sea shore and the redwoods. But we met on the Texas coast and lived in Port Aranas, where we began our occupation as nature guides.
Currently we are working with Texas A & M University on some projects to promote ecotourism on the Texas coast which brings me to our Welder Wildlife adventure. Through Texas A & M we are currently residing at the Welder Wildlife Refuge in Sinton, Texas, where we are actively volunteers-in-training this week.
To finish up about who we are and why you might be interested in what we are doing at Welder: Dan is a 35 year old wildlife biologist. He went straight from highschool in rural east Texas, where his graduating class was 24 students, to the Navy where his new world spanned oceans and countries. 3 of the 14 years he served in the Navy, were spent attending the University of Houston where he majored in biology, minored in chemistry.
When I met Dan, he had only 2 weeks left in the Navy. He had chosen to get out after 14 years of fixing aircraft and working on Naval vessels, to finally pursue a career doing what he has wanted to do since childhood, a career based in nature and wildlife conservation. Or, as his country-boy self used to refer to it, “get paid to get chased by bears.” Awkward, but captivating that he would refer to a career in biology this way. I loved him for it and still do.
That tells you who Dan is. Me? I have three years of college, no degree. I would call myself an amateur seaside naturalist and student of nature and wildlife, especially of the Texas coastal habitat and native plant and animal species. When I first met Dan, when he was stationed at Ingleside, Texas, I lived in Port Aransas. My seashell collection was so extensive it literally paved a way up the stairs, onto my patio and dominated the entrance and living room of my home. He was intrigued and though he had never paid attention to shells much before, he helped me identify and expand my collection. Within 6 months our beachcombing, collecting, and identification of coastal molluscs grew into a collection of over 150 shells (mollusc species) which we displayed in a deserted gift shop space loaned to us by the Beach Lodge, literally facing the Gulf on the beach of Port Aransas.
It is through Miles Phillips, professor in the Texas A & M Department of Ecotourism at the Agriextension Office in College Station, Texas, that Dan has begun working to assist with some of Texas A & M’s current projects which promise to infuse the Texas coast with exciting ecotourism opportunities. Professor Phillips hired Dan, as an intern and arranged housing for us through the Welder Wildlife Foundation in Sinton, Texas on the Welder Wildlife Refuge.
The experience here at Welder is going to be rich and exciting and I am going to keep journal of it which will enjoy a spot on this blog! I hope you will follow our adventures at the refuge by visiting us each week to view new posts about our experiences here.