By Charles Lohrmann
The Book of Texas Bays
This journal is part personal spiritual quest, part natural history and part environmental legal casebook.
A love affair with the Texas Coast does not allow you to take the easy path. You have to work at the relationship. But the payoff for the work is nothing short of spiritual fulfillment. If you need proof, it’s available in Jim Blackburn’s book on his love for the coast, The Book of Texas Bays (Texas A&M University Press, 304 pages, $40, hardcover). As you read, you’ll travel from Sabine Lake on the Louisiana border to Boca Chica where the Rio Grande sometimes meets the Gulf of Mexico. As you travel the miles in between Louisiana and Mexico, you’ll learn about things coastal, from birding on High Island to kayaking the Lighthouse Lakes to fly-fishing Laguna Madre.
Blackburn’s affair with the coast, though rooted in a youthful love of the outdoors, evolved as he realized the importance of taking action to protect the wetlands and marshes that line the bays that he loves. He relates the months of slogging through legal battles, encountering a remarkable cast of characters — both heroes and villains — who play their roles with enthusiasm. Some characters are motivated by love for the coast, others by economic gain.
As Blackburn relates his personal and legal quest to help protect Texas bays, he articulates the importance of the ecological capital. To preserve and enjoy this capital, he explains,we need to incorporate knowledge and ethics — not just the financial bottom line — into our view of the bays’ value. This new definition of value for the coast incorporates knowledge and ethics, favoring long-term sustainability of the ecosystem over short-term economic gain.
The book is beautiful, not just because of Jim Olive’s photographs, but also for the engaging narrative that unfolds. Blackburn relates the happiness that follows success stories and the heartbreak that follows battles lost. He recalls fishing with his Uncle Bun on the Sabine Neches waterway in 2001 after the channel was once again full of wildlife after a time in Uncle Bun’s memory when the channel was known as “Stink Ditch” and its water would “take the paint off the bottom of your boat.”
Even though Blackburn offers intensely personal views in the book, they come across as experience shared and lessons learned rather than an agenda realized. For example,you can join him in visiting Christmas Bay as a sanctuary, a cathedral where it’s possible to experience a complex weaving of life, and to come to a personal understanding of your place in the web of life.