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Frontera Audubon Thicket in Weslaco, Texas

By Jim Chapman

It is still such a pleasure, after all these past thirty years in South Texas, to stand by my large window looking out to the backyard and the Frontera Audubon Thicket beyond.  It is so familiar yet endlessly changing and fascinating. 

The big ash tree butts against the corky hackberries, each one unique with limbs jutting out at all angles and all bearing countless tiny rust-colored berries.  The Mexican Poinciana and soapberry tree wind around the stout Sabal palm, looking for sunlight.  The chapote , brazil  and Adelia are also hungry for sun, so thick is the overhead canopy of anacua, ash, and hackberry.  Turks cap, pigeonberry, fiddlewood and salvia all bloom and fruit in the filtered light.  Each tree and shrub is unique and I know them all, withered in drought or luxuriant after rainfall.  Then there are the constant sounds and movements of birds carrying on with their lives – doves, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, kiskadees, green jays, kingbirds, orioles, cardinals, and so many others.

Looking out, I’ve seen amazing things:  a Coopers hawk striking a mockingbird in mid-air, chachalacas parading their chicks or fanning their tail feathers like turkeys, a giant toad eating cockroaches, literally hundreds of Broad-winged hawks circling overhead and drifting through the treetops, flocks of Red-crowned parrots eating figs or noisily settling down for the night in an ash or ebony.  I am so fond of this tiny patch of forest and the busy webs of life it sustains that it fills my heart. 

My late wife Cyndy and I bought the first two acres 23 years ago because we knew that at a moment’s notice and in a few hours time, a bulldozer could make it unrecognizable to us and completely recognizable to any developer.  We gave our 2 acres to Frontera Audubon Society, John Fucik then donated an adjacent half acre, and Bebe (Skaggs) James, in a stunning act of generosity, donated her twelve and a half acres along with her historic home, in 1990.  Thus was born the Frontera Audubon “Thicket.”  Later came trails, fences, labor-intensive removal of exotic and invasive Guinea grass and Brazilian Pepper (which still continues) and a Visitor Center.  A lot of good people, too many to name, have contributed a huge amount of work and effort along the way.

What will save the few other places like the Thicket?  It will not be business or commerce, for commerce reduces everything to a commodity with monetary value, and a parking lot, house, or convenience store has more “value” than an acre of forest.  To paraphrase Wendell Berry who says it so well, we understand ourselves and our culture well enough to know that people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love.

We can save our scattered bits and pieces of wilderness, however small, when we acknowledge that we delight in them, hold them dear, that they are precious to us even though, or perhaps because, we can never fully explain or understand all the life they contain and sustain.  We can talk about saving biological diversity, and we must.  But what moves us most to act is not scientific knowledge, but love, and we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that or say it out loud. 

Back before Frontera owned the woods behind our house, the city would periodically send a tractor out to disk up all the brush, vines and seedlings.  It was painful to watch the new wild plants struck down.  One day Cyndy finally had enough.  She ran out and stopped the tractor and cajoled the driver into leaving.  She made it clear how much that bit of brush mattered to us, and that was the first step toward preserving what would become the Thicket.   

There are special wild places that need us to show our love for them all over the Rio Grande Valley.  After all, if we who live near them and love them cannot protect them, who can? 

Jim Chapman is the president of Frontera Audubon Society and vice chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.

The Fromtera Audubon Thicket is located at 1101 S. Texas Blvd. in Weslaco, Texas.  http://www.fronteraaudubon.org/

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