Robin Doughty Interview, Part 2 of 2

  • 1:06 - 2176RD: ...Salvias for hummingbirds, so I got-I bought fifty-three species of Salvii at one time in here-I love Salvia simply because hummingbirds like them. So I got into salvias. DT: (Inaudible)RD: Yeah.DT: Let's return to the exotics and how they were introduced (inaudible).1:33 - 2176
  • RD: Well, you know, I think it's a very good question because in this day and age you always say, well, you know, I can't do anything and it doesn't matter. The juggernaut of some one other, you know, federal government or society, well, when you start picking away at these exotics, you realize that some individual often, for some funky or fanatical reason, had a thing about, say, the house sparrow and his name-this is not new by any 2:08 - 2176means, but Eugene Schieffelin, who lived on Madison Avenue. One of the reasons that the house sparrow got across the Atlantic was because he wanted to reintroduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare. And so the English sparrow is one of these birds that is a literary moment, motif. It wasn't the only reason but-but, you know, it was a reason why some individual gets it into their minds that this is gonna be really good and in the case of the house sparrow, it was really gonna be good because it was gonna solve the problem of these inch bugs in shade trees, you know, are defoliating shade trees in 2:49 - 2176downtown areas of New York where the, you know, self respecting naked birds wouldn't go anymore. It was also gonna be a reminder to immigrants of their roots, the chirping house sparrow. Well the house sparrow became literally I think the winged rat within thirty years of being introduce, and everybody has one. Galveston gets them from Liverpool in 1867, you know, brought straight over and released as a sign of progress. And these an-these animals, a) don't do the jobs they were supposed to do, and b) start to beat up on indigenous species like Purple Martins and-and Bluebirds. So how does this bird get here? Because some individual or some moment or some group decided that 3:32 - 2176they thought it would be a-a big improvement.
  • Similarly the eucalyptus in California gets there because some individual, his name was EL-Elwood, I've forgotten his last name now (Walker was it?) in Santa Barbara, saw some in a nursery and thought they would be wonderful. Elwood Cooper was his name, and he writes to the expert in Australia who pushes them out, you know, by the bucket full of seeds to anybody who asks him for them. So really these individuals do make a difference I've found. And-4:07 - 2176and likewise some of these game animals are gifts from one family to another and they become status symbols or ornaments or ultimately opportunities to-to expand ones economic base by running cattle with-with exotic antelope for example. So, it varies a great deal. DT: Who do you think is the Pandora's Box (inaudible)?4:42 - 2176
  • RD: I-I-I don't know. I-the English sparrow can never be reversed-although they always say the Model T Ford did them in. That is, once you shifted from horse drawn vehicles to the internal combustion engine, all that surplus grain that was in downtown New York and downtown Washington, these inner city areas of course disappears. So, you've got still the cavities where Sparrows are nesting, but you've got the-the grain-abundant grain food suddenly gets depleted as you switch to vehicles and 5:16 - 2176non-horse drawn vehicles. So maybe that brings about some kind of parity, some kind of control.
  • But often-such you look at the nutria brought into-into Louisiana initially by the McIlhenny family, you know, and-and escape in some kind of-it was going to be a-a complement to muskrat fur. This Argentinean rodent then escapes and is thought to be a real-also a real improvement. Can you eradicate nutria and the answer is no-or Sparrows, or Starlings-let's not talk about starlings either. So, a lot of these-I think you are in a Pandora's Box situation. You open it and there's no going back. That's why it's interesting to look at this new system of plant and animal assembly to see exactly 6:05 - 2176how it works over the short and longer terms if you can figure out how these new components play off each other. Because we-we're dealing with a case of, I think, sort of Russian roulette. We really don't know or nor can we predict how these things are gonna really work out in the longer term on a ecological basis. DT: Maybe you can discuss sort of as a case study, how the Nilgai and the Axis Deer and the white-tail have interacted from some of your studies. 6:39- 2176
  • RD: Well I'm not sure that I'm qualified to talk about the behavioral and ecological exchanges. There's a-a couple of books that-the-the A & M people have worked on, but essentially I think the Nilgai was brought in to the King Range as a-a sort of interesting gift in the 30's and is still basically I think located mainly on the-on the King Ranch. But this brings in the-the whole new ballgame of not only having exotics that 7:09 - 2176may be Indian or African doing very well here in Texas, and I include ostriches as well, which I think are remarkable, or giraffes looking at you from live oak, you know, over a small live oak tree they've got a giraffe looking down at you-very remarkable. But these things I think are-are not always known. There's a-attempt to-to put them in quarantine and use, say, San Antonio's zoo as a-as a sort of a breeding ground so you can then ship out to new owners the offspring of these exotics because you're not sure what diseases they may be carrying or not carrying. 7:51 - 2176
  • But really we don't know I think. It depends again on the-on the conditions. People argue that some of these an-antelope will, in a time of drought, out compete the white-tail deer easily-Eland for example, which are African animals, much better adapted to aridity situations and much more, perhaps more economically in terms of water use and ability to-to store water. In-in a time of drought they can maybe survive and white-tails won't. You need to get to the-the ecologists and the behaviorists, big game people, to answer all those questions. But, I don't' think we know the-the-the answers. 8:29 - 2176Besides, some of these animals are not only-they're outside the deer proof fences now. A lot of them have got out, are now breeding on their own or hybridizing, we don't know. And so they are beyond our-our ability to control them. DT: Maybe you could turn to just talking briefly about how it is that you ask yourself these questions and how you keep score and develop your book. Something about your research and writing process. 9:04 - 2176
  • RD: Yeah. Two things that have enlivened me. One is, professionally, as a geographer, I'm interested in how people alter the landscapes in which they live. You know, this human role in transforming the face of the earth and we are ecological dominance in all kinds of ways through the settlement processes-through land use changes and through the direct and indirect things we do to those places in which we-9:36 - 2176we locate ourselves. So, professionally I can be very comfortable in looking at impacts on birds or game or-or even plants. And then of course I've got my personal curiosity, especially about birds and how my own affection and interest and curiosity is-is sort of reflected by other people that I meet. We have this innate curiosity about the world around us and I think for me birds have always been, ever since I was kid, a means of-of sort of looking at cycle and season and looking at myself in a-in a longer term because they all have their agendas, they're all doing things whether I'm there or not and it's nice to-to sort of, perhaps vicariously, live in their lives for a little while. So that I 10:23 - 2176can come back to mine perhaps more refreshed than I was and more relaxed and yet equally curious. DT: How do you pass on this curiosity to your students? You're a professor at UT and how do you engender that?
  • RD: Well, that's a good question. I'm-I'm teaching now a-a capstone course, it's the last course that most of our major will-will take before they leave and we try to be-develop, you know, our "philosophy of geography." The-these students have been exposed for three or so years to various aspects of the physical environment and the 10:58 - 2176social environment and the-and the biological environment, and-and the question is well, what does it mean? How-how do you place yourself and explain to other people who you are? And my simple advice, admonition to them, is get out and learn to look at details. Get out and notice, in your daily routines, the small things. It hasn't to be-you don't have to be a hero, you don't have to go to Mount St. Helens and wait or go to Antarctica and watch a great big iceberg being formed. But everything in your daily existence has something to say. There's a story going on, things happening, and your job I think-not your job but your-the ammunition I give is to go and look and listen and be curious and-and-and poke about your local environment and see-see how it works if you can. 11:54 - 2176
  • One thing that interests me about this sense of being a geographer every day, not just professionally but in your daily life, being curious, geography is everywhere approach, is to say, you know, we leave a building and walk across campus and there's a mockingbird singing. Why? What's happening? What-what time of the year is this? What's it doing? Which way is it facing? Can you think of a nest that may be around or-or you see a-other birds flying over campus-the night hawks or the chimney swifts that 12:27 - 2176come back. These are sort of tokens, these are moments, in which you can really enjoy and get out of yourself and sort of look at something else and see how it conducts its life, how it goes about being what it is and enjoy it and admire it and respect it for that-for that very reason. That's that sort of awareness that gets you out of this rather fixated humdrum need to go from one class to another and gives one a chance I think to catch ones breath and perhaps relax and let oneself go a little bit. 12:56 - 2176DT: One question we often ask people is just how do folks in this sort of busy, hurley burley world, go and find a place to relax-especially a place in nature and I was curious if you have a location that you like to go that gives you solace and some kind of serenity? If you could describe that.13:22 - 2176
  • RD: There are a number of places. The one I've been going to for the last ten, almost fifteen years now, is every Sunday I go to the Austin Wastewater Treatment Plant and I just love to go, rain or shine, I go really early in the morning, hopefully not too many other birders are there, and I'll just go there and sometimes I'll go there on my own after-after school or after work, and just sit and watch-I do count-I-I am a bit compulsive about identifying the species and counting now and putting them on a graph 13:57 - 2176and seeing what goes up and what goes down from year to year. But I do enjoy looking at these organisms, these ducks, these different birds, and sometimes I can I-identify them individually and just watch what they're doing-looking into their eyes and just enjoying watching them and getting quite poetic about it. I do quite a lot of poetry writing and I've written, I think some quite decent poems by-by referring to moments when you're very still, very quite, and very watchful.
  • And that's what I like again about Bedichek that I mentioned earlier on. Bedichek is always celebrating the small things in 14:36 - 2176Texas, you know, the-the Hummingbird, the-the small flower, the Inca Dove. He's not interested in the rock-em-sock-em Longhorn and-and these sorts of things. It's the quite things and he says that associate together and he doesn't talk about competitions so much as talking about organisms, plants and animals, clumping together, associating to cooperate. Cooperation is much more use-usual in nature than competition. And I like that vision. I always carry it around with me because a lot of these organisms, I see these birds, aren't cooperating with each other. There may be the odd faint and the odd-odd 15:15 - 2176nod and wink, but generally they're going about, they'll warn each other if there's a problem or they'll be feeding together or they'll be-there's a lot of cooperation going on and I like that, I think it-it sort of gives you another side of this-this need to be an individual and to-to place oneself always at the center of ones-ones existence in every way possible. DT: You mentioned that going to the Wastewater Treatment Plant often gets you inspired to write some poetry and I was wondering if there is a poem or maybe a passage from one of your books that you could conclude with by reading.15:51 - 2176
  • RD: Well thank you, I'd like to do that. This is my whooping crane book here, which I won't hold up because it's out of print. And I have a-a two poems I'd like to quote you. It's very audacious of me to actually put these in the book, but I did and I-I realize now that you-you shouldn't do this lightly, but I do love writing poetry because I think it gives you a-a way of saying things and I love language, a way of pulling things together in a 16:23 - 2176very succinct and yet hopefully meaningful way.
  • The first poem is from the book The Whooping Crane, it's called "Aransas Norther."October rain is sharp glass, blasted in tumult.Gulls scrabble sands.Terns hunker. Tormented songbirds rack. The shout that all whirling things start up. Wind whips leaves, zings wires.Palms lash the air needing legs. This sky hurls breathes cranes whose guttural chevrons will sound the change to wintertime.
  • 17:06 - 2176This was I remember in October when I was in one of those Northers come to-through Port Aransas and it rained for three days and afterwards the cranes had started to come into the-the refuge. They'd-they'd used this Norther to-to migrate south and-and come into their winter quarters. And the final one is actually looking at cranes as they walk-as they're sort of walking about.
  • It's called "Cranes on Point Pasture Road," which is down the Blackjack Peninsula on the refuge. 17:50 - 2176They prance, as two year olds heading for the gallops. The joy of smooth footfall. No Oxeyes, Spartinia.Live oak brush endless;Hawk lifts deliberate steps to find food and high adults, who punish territorial transgressions. They skeeter almost as do yearlings, all legs unhitched to anything, ready to race, gambol, above all to dance with blood-curdling calls, white whirls, wings drooping, greeting right, mating right, season. Only to troop back to rank vegetation.
  • Thank you.DT: Thank you very much, I appreciate your time. [End of Reel 2176][End of interview with Robin Doughty]