Today is the forty-sixth anniversary of Roy Bedichek’s death, and I dropped by the Barton Springs Pool earlier in the morning to pay respect to the memory of Texas’ first real nature writer. There was nothing before him and there has been little as good since. For those of us who follow in the tradition, Bedichek sets the bar for success in communicating our feel for nature to a broad non-academic audience. I would have preferred to have visited his old home at the corner of 23rd and Oldham, near campus, but the block has long been converted into the ungainly parking lot of the LBJ Library. (I don’t know of any other city with as many ugly downtown parking lots as Austin.) In fact there is precious little at UT that memorializes Bedichek in spite of his long association with the university. Perhaps that’s just as well. There is surprisingly little work done here any more on the ecology of Texas; by and large, we’ve long handed over our native state to Texas A&M.
At the entrance of the Barton Springs Pool, there is now a statue of Bedichek and his two friends, J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb. For over 40 years, from July to October, Bedichek is supposed to have driven to the pool every afternoon at 3.30 to talk to Dobie and Webb for two hours sitting at a particular rock, part of a limestone outcropping overlooking Parthenia, the largest of the pool’s springs . A small sycamore cast a shadow over the back of the rock for those who preferred shade, but Bedichek is supposed to have liked to direct sun, jumping into the pool if he ever got uncomfortably hot. The statue depicts the three friends around the rock though the original rock is no more to be found. A flood is supposed to have washed it away, some time in the late 1960s according to the Texas writer, Don Graham, who doesn’t remember the source of this information . No one else seems to know how the rock disappeared, taking with it much of the living memories of Bedichek, Dobie, and Webb who had shaped the intellectual and literary life of Austin—and Texas—for those four decades. Bedichek died in 1959, Webb in 1963, and Dobie in 1964.
The details of Bedichek’s life are not particularly intriguing. He was not originally from Texas but born in 1878 in his grandfather's log cabin in Sangomon Valley, Illinois. The family moved to Eddy, Texas, as homesteaders in 1885, where he attended rural schools, including the Bedichek Academy founded by his father. He entered UT—Austin in 1898, graduating in 1903. (Eventually, he got an M. A., also from UT, in 1925.) Bedichek worked as a reporter for the Fort Worth Record (1903 -1904), taught high school in Houston (1904 -1905) and San Angelo (1905 -1908), and was the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of Deming, New Mexico (1908 -1913) while also editing the Deming Headlight (1910 -1912). Returning to Austin in 1913, he became secretary of the Young Men’s Business League which merged with the Champer of Commerce. During 1915 -1916 he was the executive secretary of Hogg’s Orgnization for Promoting Higher Education in Texas. (Will C. Hogg was an Austin lawyer and philanthropist who left the bulk of his estate to UT.) Bedichek was also the city editor of the San Antonio Express for a year. These constant forays into journalism probably explain how easily he always wrote for a general audience.
In 1917 Bedichek got a job as the athletic director for the University Interscholastic League (UIL) started by UT. Founded in 1909, the UIL was supposed to provide leadership and guidance to public high school debate and athletic teachers. It was also supposed to organize educational extracurricular academic, athletic, and music contests. (A somewhat unique—or should we say, odd—organization, it still exists, and somewhat proudly claims to be the biggest of its kind in the world.) Bedichek became director of the organization in 1922, and continued in that position until retirement in 1948.
As part of his UIL work, he visited schools throughout the state and began camping out supposedly because hotel accommodations were often unavailable. Camp life meshed easily with a lifelong interest in wildlife, especially in birds. Early on Bedichek became close friends with Dobie, a folklorist, and Webb, a historian. Both were teaching at the university. All three had been raised in tiny Texas towns, and continued to have a deep appreciation of their roots, both cultural and natural. Their intellectual influence on Austin was considerable. Thanks to it, Austin emerged from being a typical Texas town into the “oasis of open-mindedeness”  that it still is in contemporary Texas.
More than Dobie and Webb, Bedichek’s concerns with the disappearing natural world of Texas. His stories of camp life, of the plant and the animal inhabitants of Texas, small and big, became legends in the circle that gathered around the triumvarite. (It included Ronnie Dugar, who founded the Texas Observer in 1954, at age 24, which continues to be the best magazine in this state.) Dobie and Webb eventually convinced Bedichek to take a year’s leave of absence in 1946 to write Adventures with a Texas Naturalist , his first book, while living by himself at Friday Mountain Ranch, southwest of Austin. The book was well-received when it appeared though its reputation only grew as it came to be reprinted over and over again. (The 1962 reprint, for instance, drew an admiring review even in the academically sedate American Naturalist .) Adventures was the first book to extol the beauty of natural Texas, to warn of how the open grasslands of the West were being converted to fenced-in highway-dissected counties, and to meditate how the native fauna and flora were being imperilled by this poor stewardship of the land. Written in a mild style, in spite of its stark message, the book included wonderful descriptions of the plants and animals of Texas, both famous and humble, including the mockingbird and the vermilion flycatcher, the cliff swallow and the heron, wildflowers and cedars. It remains in print today.
Bedichek’s second book, Karánkaway Country  from 1950, was awarded the Carr P. Collins Award from the Texas Institute of Letters for the best Texas book of the year. It is as good as the much better-known Adventures, if not better. It was written during a stint at the Aransas National Wildlife refuge, has insightful observations on the problems faced by the Whooping Crane (Grus americana) as well as other environmental issues faced along the lower Texas Gulf Coast--I have commented on it twice before. (Bedichek also won Collins award a second time for his history of the UIL, Educational Competition: The Story of the University Interscholastic League of Texas ). A fourth book The Sense of Smell  was published after his death. I have never read the last two books and doubt that I ever will.) Without ever having been seriously ill, Bedichek suddently died in 1959—well, he was 80 years old.
For me, what’s most attractive about Bedichek’s work is that he freely accepted people as part of natural habitats, within nature rather than outside it, with a role to play that can be good or bad. Humans are part of Bedichek’s web of life. A passage in Adventures about swallows captures the inter-relationship particularly well:
“The birds swarmed about me, darting uncomfortably close to my head in their ambition to be on really intimate terms with an animal of another species. When I stopped, they stopped; when I moved on, they played along with me. I was flattered by this attention, but a prosaic explanation of it arose when I noticed that my feet moving in the high grass started thousands of small, and to my eyes, almost invisible insects flying over the bluff. Since the swallow is not equipped to go after his insects in the grass, he welcomes assistance from any lumbering, big-footed land animal that comes along, man included .”
Bedichek is certainly not reticent in his condemnation of those who have defiled our land. He was recording the beginning of a process of wanton destruction in Texas of which we are seeing the end, as we find little left to defile any more. Here is a characteristic passage (but note the customary understatement):
“various voluntary organizations make up the only nuclei of resistance to what is often ignorant and indiscriminate persecution [of nature]. The great unorganized mass of people who simply love wild creatures, and glory in the vast variety of nature, and consider extinction of any species of life a catastrophe of major proportions—in short, people who believe that the educative power of nature is almost, if not quite, indispensable to the formation of a genuinely moral character—these have no machinery for effective action and few organs of protest, even .”
But he was no misanthrope deep ecologist, being more like Leopold (who came from roughly the same generation), than the ideologues of the next generation. This could be Leopold writing, on the interconnectedness of parts:
“Each natural object, the fixed star or the ‘unenduring cloud,’ merges itself into a frame from which it cannot be torn without loss. There is no insulated spot in nature, but each link is linked, and it is through the interminable linkage that the active principle of ancient philosophers and the modern nature poets circulates. Intelligent observation is not an isolated process, but an unfolding .”
The humor, grace, and compassion in Bedichek’s writings still remain the best tools to make future generations of Texans appreciate the nature around us, what’s left of it. If you haven’t read Adventures, it should be obvious what you ought to do.
 Moore, S. 2003. “Salon of the West.” Austin Chronicle, 4 July 2003.
 Bedichek, R.  1994. Adventures with a Texas Naturalist. Austin: University of Texas Press.
 Harman, C. G. 1963. [Review of .] American Naturalist 38: 255 -256.
 Bedichek, R. 1950. Karánkaway Country. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
 Bedichek, R. 1956. Educational Competition: The Story of the University Interscholastic League of Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press.
 Bedichek, R. 1960. The Sense of Smell. Garden City: Doubleday.