Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 19, 2014

Texas trip reinforces belief in harmony

By Julie Johnston, Ledger photographer | Apr 06, 2011
Photo by: JULIE JOHNSTON Julie Johnston took this photo of a green jay during a recent trip to McAllen, Texas.

My latest foray into places unknown took me to McAllen, Texas. Perhaps I should clarify that McAllen was not unknown, but more precisely, unseen. Numerous folks from around these parts have wintered in McAllen for years, and I always wondered: exactly what was the attraction?

I have a better understanding of that attraction now that I have been there myself. McAllen is located not far from the Rio Grande. It is on the migratory route for numerous bird species, bringing birders to McAllen.

That said, let me reverse my progress and state the obvious: that any fool can look at a map and tell you that Texas is big. I am here to tell you that it is REALLY BIG. When one can drive 724 miles and just be inside the northern border of that state, then realize it is another long day’s drive to get to McAllen, well, that is BIG. From my driveway to McAllen the odometer read 1,306 miles. For those who winter there, or who have just visited on occasion, this is not news. Although I knew this in my head, the distance and time involved in getting to McAllen was not anything I truly understood.

You may ask why I didn’t fly instead of driving if I thought it was so far and tedious to get there. I figured driving would let me see the state far better than flying would. Besides, when you include the drive time to an airport, the security, the wait, the layover, etc. one whole day is shot with nothing better to see than the inside of a terminal, or two or three, and a layer of clouds from the plane. The two-day driving option was worth it to me. However, I wished I had allowed three days to drive so I could stop and smell, or photograph, the wildflowers along the way.

Back to the why of the trip and why I drove, the attraction, to an area previously one of those places I never really wanted to visit, was the North American Nature Photographers Association Summit.

NANPA is the first and premier organization committed solely to serving the field of nature photography. Its mission is to promote the art and science of nature photography as a medium of communication, nature appreciation and environmental protection; to provide information, education, inspiration and opportunity for all interested in nature photography and encourage responsible photography in the wild. A few include indigenous people in their photos of far off lands. After all, people are natural, too.

At the summit I met charter members, new members, old, young and in-between members. The glue holding all of us from diverse backgrounds together is a love of shooting the natural world. There were amateur photographers, professional photographers, seasoned professional photographers, part time and full time photographers. Some prefer shooting birds, others like landscapes. Still others go for the “big game” — the large mammals and some prefer the underwater world.

For those who like birds, the whole southern Texas area is a birders paradise. McAllen, The Texas Tropics, is in the center of the Valley’s birding action. McAllen is an hour from the Gulf of Mexico to the east, within 20 minutes of the Mesquite Ranches and Sand plains to the north, an hour from the Chihuahuan Desert to the west, and about three hours from the Sierra Madre Mountains to the south in Mexico. The overlap of distinct habitats and latitude make the Rio Grande Valley the most biologically diverse four-county area in the United States. Consequently, we spent what little time available outside the meeting hiking to see birds or sitting in a blind hoping to photograph them.

McAllen is a leader in promoting nature tourism in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The Valley Land Fund is a major promoter of tourism coupled with conservation. It is the belief of the VLF that private landowners play a crucial role in the conservation of wildlife in America today. The VLF believes that wildlife conservation can best be promoted through sound economic incentives for private landowners to protect and enhance the diversity of habitats, an idea that just might work in Iowa as well as in Texas.

I did get a few nice shots of the local fauna and fowl, whether native or migratory, but images were not the most important result of the trip. Always conservation minded and believing that agriculture, human habitation and the rest of the natural world can live in harmony, I came away from the summit more or less committed to the promotion of that belief. We do not have to be always opposing one another.

One of the presenters, a very well known photographer, commented that too many people are the problem (regarding conservation). Although many agreed with him, judging from the applause following that comment, I don’t know that killing off humans or limiting the birth of same is the answer. However, we can learn to leave a smaller footprint of our existence.

Perhaps, through education to generate an appreciation of nature, and yes, through photographs as well, we, as nature photographers can inspire others to protect and preserve that which, once destroyed, is difficult, if not impossible, to replace.

Those hardy folks in McAllen, Texas not only live in a place of natural beauty, they are diligent in their efforts to preserve it. Now that I have been there I know the attraction of the area to those of us from the north. I fully intend to visit again, perhaps taking a week to drive there the next time to better enjoy the vastness that is Texas.

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