Rio Bravo Nature Center Foundation, Inc.
Offices: RR 2, 4915 Columbine Curve
Eagle Pass TX 78852-9605
Carol Cullar, a long-time resident of the Frontera, holds the Rio Grande dear to her heart. In the ?90s she was editor of The Maverick Press and publisher of The Southwest Poet Series. Publications include Wind Eyes: A Women?s Reader & Writing Source, an anthology of 8 feminist authors), published by Plain View Press in 1997. Cullar?s section is entitled Hot-Thighed Bride and features poems written about her living experiences along the Texas/Mexico border. Her poetry collection, Pagan Heart, was one of five Honorable Mentions in Salmon Run Press? National Poetry Book Award for 1995; Inexplicable Burnings, won The Press of the Guadalupe's 1992 chapbook contest. Work published in Southern Humanities Review, The Wisconsin Review, Talus and Scree, Cold Mountain Review, The New York Quarterly, Voices West, The MacGuffin, plus special issue Superstition, Myth & Magik (The MacGuffin,) Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, REAL, Fireweed: A Feminist Quarterly (Canada), Half Tones To Jubilee, Kalliope: A Journal of Women?s Art, New Texas, Borderlands, Texas In Poetry: A 150 Year Anthology, Texas Short Stories, Vols. 1 and 2, et al. She is the author of four other chapbooks: Haiku, This Hunger, Life & Death, Mostly, and Maverick in the Chaparral: The Eagle Pass Poems.
A visual artist, focusing primarily on blockprint images of indigenous desert animals, Cullar has lived and taught public school art in or near Mexico since 1967 with only brief forays into the tamer regions of the West. Since her retirement nine years ago, she has established a non-profit educational foundation in Eagle Pass, Texas, to focus awareness on the ecological importance of the Rio Grande. Her most recent nature publications are PRIDE OF PLACE: A Contemporary Anthology of Texas Nature Writing and ?Country Folk,? a long essay in Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas, vol. 3, 2006-07.
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Photo caption: "The La Rserva de la Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca takes their guarding of the monarch butterfly overwintering grounds very seriously. I'm the one on the right."
Critical Description of Work:
Somewhere in the midst of myth and reality, history and remembrance lies the truth, a bright blue egg in a nest of scraps and twigs. Our stories of where we are going and our understanding of what we can become are composed of the snippets garnered from behind the hands of aunts and uncles, the half-heard whispers of this or that family gossip: a nod, a look, a moment of approval set against the fabric and tenor of the usual struggle to better our existence, to economically distance ourselves from humble beginnings, our agrarian roots.
So that over those decades that allow us to look backward and gain a perspective on our lives, we are able to see that the ties to the land that we thought we had won free of when we escaped hard-scrabble farming were just as strong after six decades as they had been when our parents sold the family farm and moved to the city.
Even more than half a century later, it was still the deeds and hopes and strengths of those early farmers and settlers who poured into Texas and Oklahoma in the early days of the previous centuries that rung the loudest, that shaped our character, that sank deepest into our hearts. It was the pioneers and their daring that settled into the core myth that identified each of us. This is what we really were.
We left the prairie and the prairie left us, through the years even the back roads grew pavement, but what didn?t change was the spirit and the framework from which we viewed the world: we were still country folk.
Part circus barker, travelogue, conservationist, philosopher, nature lover, and pest, the nature writer frequently wears many hats. In my part of the country one needs to make sure that hat is a big sombrero, casting plenty of shade.
There's something ineffable about coming home from anywhere else on earth and hitting the east Maverick County line, headed straight into a screaming sun, its talons digging runnels in the ancient seabed as it fights to stay just a few moments longer in Chaparral Country. This is where the scrub brush abruptly hunkers down a bit tighter to the low, rolling limestone and takes a stronger toehold as the land tips into the barancas and arroyos making up the Rio Grande Basin. It is here the sun?s struggle up the bluffs on the other side of the river will irretrievably drag it into the Chihuahua Desert; and there is no turning back.
Find a little rise and pull off the road. Put on that straw hat and get out to stretch. This is the place for it. Barbed wire extends as far and at times as straight as the eye can see, dense thicket tangled beyond in a threnody of thorns.
The Tamaulipan Biotic Province is the most biologically diverse on earth and ranges from the Gulf of Mexico into the Sierra Madre Oriental of Mexico, from below the sea?s surface to above 10,000 feet elevation. Here, there are more varieties of birds, butterflies, plants, so I'm told, than anywhere else on the planet. With a few exceptions along the creek beds, none of the plants are much over head high. Nothing interrupts the breadth of Texas? skies.
Maverick County lies on the northern fringes of this vast rolling plain, where the earth is a tan biscuit, steaming; and the river?s waters leak slowly down Texas? beefy flank like thin brown gravy.
The Rio Grande Basin is roughly one hundred miles wide through this stretch of its amble to the sea. If I stand in the county road in front of my house, I can see the Cerranitos del Burro, the Little Donkey Peaks, in Mexico more than sixty-five miles away on the western world-rim.
Motts of chapote, Texas persimmon, scatter through the blackbrush and cenizo, the guajillo and allthorn, mesquite, huisache, and cresote. Merely their naming plunges us into another language, an alien land, a land in which water is god and all things struggle to survive without its blessing. What defines this place, this 54,600 square miles of semi-arid chaparral and mixed prairie, then, is the relative success with which each organism has adapted to meet that challenge.
This is where I?ve chosen to make my stand; this dry and dusty thicket on the Mexican Frontera is home.
It is not a place of grandeur. There is no majesty in our vistas. Southwest Texas must spread her beauty thin, for a simple reason: there?s just so damn much of it. Texans are willing to glory in meager blooms and modest panoramas in exchange for the generous distances between those far-flung jewels.
And at dusk in the country, out amid those open spaces and the bird calls, if you live at the end of a country lane and your nearest neighbor is down the road a piece, you can encounter a quiet and a peace never found in cities. You can feel the kiss of a certain wind. It?s a little wind by relative measures?just a riffling flutter like some great and unseen cloak thrown about the shoulders in preparation for departure. The susurration of its coming and the exhalation of its going, merely a sigh against the cheek, a caress over the hairs on nape and body. In a vehicle going down the highway, this breath would pass unnoticed. Moving between buildings on a busy street would foil its detection. But if one is move-less and away from all that?that speed and noise and clutter and confinement we toss into our habitation of this earth?then one is free on a clear evening to face the east and greet the caress of the wind that chases the sunset ?round the world.
In his 1918 letter to Regis Michaud, Robert Frost said: ?The colloquial is the root of every good poem. . . . One half of individuality is locality.?
Then of course there?s John Muir?s declaration: ?The rivers flow not past, but through us . . . .?
This is why we choose to live in desert places and tell each other tales of wildness, taking unto ourselves a measure of that primeval essence which pulls us near untrammeled, untamed edges of the world.
I?ve become a nature advocate, a so-called environmentalist, a conservationist because of my early encounters with the land. I?m passionate about getting children out in the back pastures and along the banks of streams and rivers. They need that down-time to test themselves against their simple fears, to succeed in self-set tasks and challenges. They need the opportunity to learn to love the land, for how can they cherish what they do not love? How can they love what they do not know? How can they know what they have never experienced?
We have an entire generation of children growing up without knowing the outdoors, without knowing the names of the trees and plants and animals around them. They have seen more animals on television than they have in the wild. Most of them have never played with a horny toad or tadpole or seen either in its natural habitat.
We are losing the country at a remarkable rate. Little ranchitos spring up all over the country, chopping the vast brassada into tiny five-acre plots. Entrepreneurs name their developments ?Linda Vista? or ?Cenizo Hills;? and the first thing they do is run the bull dozer over every square inch and utterly destroy what the site was named for, destroy forever the natural plants that are ideally suited to our drought-ridden regions?plants that don?t need to be watered every evening, that don?t die with the first heatwave of summer, plants that are providing shelter and food for many species of wildlife.
John Muir said: ?When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." Aren?t we all ultimately connected to the earth and doesn?t each of us deserve the opportunity to discover that connection? If there are no stewards of the land in the next generation, who will protect the wild places of the earth?
I worry that my grandsons will not have an intimate tie to the soil, that they will become fastidious and effete, that they will stomp all the spiders in their houses in the Twenty-first Century, and will never know the flavor of rich, red grit, the ice of a mountain stream, or the scream of a truly enraged panther. Nor will they know any country folk.
If that distant gilded spire glimpsed between straggled mesquites were not the beef feedlot, were instead some far cathedral's awkward reach toward grandeur; and if the grey eminence of Los Cerritos del Burro, The Little Donkey Peaks, were not reduced to a sketched silhouette along the western world-rim by sixty miles of desert monody; and if this scrawny chaparral tangled out across those flats and gullies, thatched and prickled by an infinity of thorns, wiry as the mons veneris of an aged whore, were not de vez en cuando [from time to time] painted with a thousand hues, embroidered with the rare incense of sanctuary; then this earth, this dry and dusty place, this desert tabernacle would not compel my pagan heart, nor lift my jaded eye to boundless principalities: and I, voluptuary at the sapphire shrine.
I have caught the wind that whistles through the buzzard-stripped carcass of all my fleshless dreams; I cannot let it go.