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Profit seeking tempts the small landowner to put pressure on the land. He or she wants to graze a cow or horse, build a rental property, or sell the trees to meet a payment on a car. Hard times amplify these pressures. Each human generation is still larger than the last. Sons and daughters slice family holdings into parcels that grow smaller over time, and a night flight over rural private acreage shows a growing sea of homefront lights.

Grandaddy made his living from the land with relative impunity, but he had lots of land and simpler tastes. Five acres in our time cannot feed a growing family and have oak trees, deer, and quail to boot. But the family living on acreage it owns has a better life than most.

Being near the land benefits both people and the land. However, we see a growing tendency for most people to live separate from the land, and this bodes ill for both. A major impact of this separateness arises from the economic motives of the absentee landlord.

Land of Bears and Honey: A Natural History of East Texas

Many owners live in cities, acquiring pieces of the country as inheritance or for investment. They find it easy in this circumstance to scalp the land for money—they send someone else to cut the trees or build the condominiums, the check comes in the mail, and nothing changes on the map. People, like the land, suffer when the two are disconnected. Fifty years ago, the variety that people need was met by trees and birds of different kinds and a hundred moods of weather. Now, dangerous city streets, posted land, and unfamiliarity with snakes and bugs keep us from places where natural diversity can still be found.

We entertain ourselves indoors—at a dozen shopping malls, by an endless retinue of "products" built to sell, and with television shows that titillate with constant change. As we harden our addiction to the constructed scenes that come at us with accelerating frequency, we lose interest in the slower-moving natural world. Our urge to know the different kinds of plants and animals, and even our ability to see that they are different, fades. Plants are green, animals are usually brown, and they are harder to spot in the woods than they are on the television screen. For these reasons, East Texas land increasingly represents to people only income.

It yields pleasure to the extent that it provides commodities that build and fuel the world we have builtwood fiber, beef, and residential lots. Managers produce commodities more efficiently in large-scale operations that focus on a single product. The result is increasingly evident: ever larger tree farms, hay pastures, and housing developments.

Land Of Bears And Honey

Wood and beef are increasingly the products of choice for East Texas lands. Once the owner or the manager settles on a product, plants and animals that interfere with its production become weeds. East Texans come from a long line of farmers, and they know what to do with weeds. Nonetheless, despite the increasing tendency for land to be managed only for commodity production, we have been encouraged by the emergence of individuals who want to curb the impact of the marketplace.

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Some hold jobs with land resource agencies, others work with industry, and some hold no professional affiliations. Many are young, but some are old. They hold in common a conviction that farming for material gain is not the only legitimate use of land.

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Under guidance from such people, management of public lands for more diverse ecosystems has assumed greater priority than it previously enjoyed. Many of these women and men recognize the need to reconnect house-bound people with a more natural landscape. Some work to preserve or restore ecological diversity on public lands; some try to increase the public's access to land; some teach.

Informal communications networks have arisen to connect these stewards for the land with one another. Public attitudes are changing, partly from the efforts of these dedicated people. Taxpayers' objections to using tax money to purchase lands for public enjoyment are fewer than they might have been during the last generation.

Old-timers build birdhouses and let odd corners of the back pasture grow up to trees and shrubs. The Federal Endangered Species Act, despite unwarranted abuses of its authority, holds strong against attempts to rescind it. The information media tell us that few politicians, sports stars, or other public figures believe we are growing too fast and consuming too much. We do know that these notions are important to some people, and throughout history changes often started with convictions at the grass-roots level.

By their very nature, people always will be motivated to some degree to enhance and display their material well-being.

Land of Bears and Honey A Natural History of East Texas By Joe C. Truett and Daniel W. Lay

Most people, including land managers, will find it tempting to use economic income as the final measure of success. Perhaps this can change—it has come as a surprise to us, for example, that writing this book was one of our most enjoyable, though least economically rewarding, ventures. We thank the many readers who appreciated the first edition. Your letters and words helped more than you may know. If readers of this second printing find it to have been worth its cost in wood, we will have been amply rewarded. For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.

Rain commenced near the Georgia line and the road became mud.

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  • The traveler pulled his hat low and kept on, boots sucking at the ground. Water leaked through his coat and trickled down his back. Houses stood by the way, some with other travelers on verandas, waiting out the rain. But the man did not stop. Night came and the rain slacked. The traveler halted to build a fire, using tinder carefully protected in an oilcloth. Steam rose from the legs of his pants and his jacket. He stood before the fire until his clothes dried, then sitting with his back to an oak, he slept. Twice he awoke to rebuild the fire, once at a barred owl's hoot and again near dawn when the chill reached deep.

    He was far down the road when the Alabama sun burned through to warm his back. Cotton fields, choked with weeds, flanked him on left and right. The road hardened in the sunlight; he stooped to scrape the last mud from his boots. Blue jays screamed beside a farmyard where white-haired children stared between pickets.

    Land Of Bears And Honey

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