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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

She walked in the company of giants, men with boundless aspirations grappling with even larger political responsibilities on behalf of a great nation. Though diminutive in stature and hailing from the little Pineywoods town of Karnack, a world far, far away from the nation’s capital and swirling center of political intrigue, Lady Bird Johnson was a quiet force of her own.

Fortunately for Texas, she was a force of, and for, nature.

As my colleague Rob McCorkle writes in this issue, Mrs. Johnson would have been 100 years young this year. Her spirit and legacy continue to loom large in the Texas Hill Country and beyond. Most remember her for her tireless advocacy of native plants, the beautification of the nation’s highways and the establishment of the nationally renowned Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

I choose to remember her for something different, namely “her rock.”

Nobody tells the story better than Pat Noonan. Noonan, a giant himself in the field of conservation, is the founder of the Conservation Fund. In the 1970s, Noonan was the director of the Nature Conservancy and was operating out of the conservancy’s D.C.-area office when he received an unexpected call. It was none other than Lady Bird Johnson on the line.

Her request was a seemingly straightforward one, at least to her. Mrs. Johnson wanted him to come to Texas post-haste to help her save “her rock.” There was only one thing to do when the former first lady called. So he hopped on a plane to Texas the next day, as he tells it with more than a little bit of glimmer in his eyes and a touch of humor in his voice, “to go see a lady worth seeing about her rock.”

Her “rock,” as she affectionately called it, turned out to be a massive granite batholith, known for its perceived mystical and enchanted powers and its prominent place on the Hill Country landscape. For Mrs. Johnson, the site represented a favorite place to take out-of-town, and particularly out-of-state, guests for an invigorating hike and a grand view of the Johnson family’s beloved home ground.

When Pat Noonan arrived in Texas, Mrs. Johnson didn’t waste any time marching him right up to the top of the rock and announcing her concerns. As she patiently explained with her inimitable Southern charm, the owners encompassing this extraordinary geologic feature were thinking of selling the property, and a rock quarry developer was in the market for a new source of granite. Her concerns about the future of the place were palpable and undeniable.

Her proposition, as Noonan tells it, was equally irresistible. “Pat, if you get this land under contract, I’ll find you the money to buy it,” she emphatically declared. And, as the annals of Texas conservation history will most assuredly attest, he held up his end of the deal, and she held up hers.

The result of that grand bargain was, of course, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, a Hill Country treasure that Texas families will continue to cherish, now and to come.

I like her deal and hope you do, too.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

 


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