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247 On the occasion of the presentation of the 2009 Pugsley Medal for my years of conservation and park advocacy, I had to prepare an acceptance speech to a prestigious national audience, many of whom were past recipients of the award. The principal guideline for my speech was the long list of my life’s work to appear in the evening program. The list was complete, but it did not answer the question that often haunts my own deliberations. Why? How did I come from Democratic Party activist and businessman to conservationist? As is often the case, the answer entails sheer happenstance. Sometime in the 1990s I happened to come upon an old issue of Life magazine, one dated August 5, 1940, six days before my birth. I flipped through it, and found among the slightly yellowing pages an article on American vacation venues. Prominently featured there were two photographs in color—unusual for the magazine at that time—scenes of Glacier National Park. I was immediately struck, and I wrote a poem about what might have occurred in those days leading up to my birth, something that might have set the stage for my journey to Glacier, and thus for my future work to save a few more “last best places.” In All Likelihood My Mother Read the August 5, 1940, Life Magazine How else on steaming evenings with me only a week away could she catch Corporal Hitler and the cancerous mole Mussolini, as they moved from Compiègne across Libya? All was far removed, nothing undone yet, yet, she, and perhaps I, sensed the tension as her fan, an Emerson oscillator, The National Park Foundation CHAPTER 15 AMERICA’S BEST IDEAS 248 rustled the pages of photos of dictators who, like the Kelvinator, were poised to change our lives. The upright radio reached out, gathering scratchings from blackened skies, Auden’s “unmentionable odor” lingering on the rim of raised Gilbey’s gin and the lips of Lucky Strike smokers. The world was brewing anew—men, material, entire countries soon wrapped in winter blankets, suffering jungle rot, inhaling the inhuman stench of gasoline leaking from reeking meadows. My small world would know none of this even as a cry went up down the block and neighborhood women hurried their own children inside before they ran to comfort those who had lost theirs. Yet fifty-five years later, all of that trails behind the beginning of my own history, spotted with later conflicts, as I thumb the near-yellowed pages, when color photographs of Glacier National Park’s emerald peaks confirm that somehow my mother began to steer me toward those safe mountains even as the dread of war ran through the darkness of her womb. I was preordained, I think, to take up the cause of conservation and parkland enhancement . All of my life before that was preparation, a foundation upon which to build. Each of my career steps, though satisfying at the time, to one degree or another meant walking and working in the shadows of those for whom I labored. I say this with no sense of unhappiness, simply as fact. I suspect this is true for many. As we learn, we ideally store up experiences so that at some point we can blossom into our own identifiable selves. The sad thing is that all too often people become weighed down with obliga- The National Park Foundation 249 tions, failures, and distractions, and when conditions are finally right—if such a time comes—they are unwilling or unable to take the leap. I am one of the fortunate ones: when my time came I was not only prepared but also able to make the jump. My years with Senator Bentsen had been invaluable. Working on new endeavors that require statewide action and organization, particularly if these require legislation, can be daunting anywhere, but in Texas such challenges can appear overwhelming, bordering on impossible. Working as a statewide organizer in Texas gave me knowledge of the players, temperament, and diversity of the state, so much so that I had long gotten over the sense of impossibility. Yes, Texas is huge. Two hundred fifty-four counties spread from East Texas with its Deep South roots to the high plains and deserts of Deep West Texas, and from the area bordering Mexico in the south, with its rich cultural diversity, to the megacities of Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, and San Antonio. Throughout are all manner of...


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