At left: November, 1989. Checking seed viability from a native prairie harvest
in the upper blacklands near Greenville. Arnold Davis, the guy with the beard, was retained as a project consultant
providing guidance to oversee the restoration of Parkhill Prairie for Collin County
Open Space Program (now abandoned). Texas Nature Conservancy and Texas Parks and Wildlife were
also partners in the project. Richard Hensley in overalls and Bill Neiman with the headband,
both of Native American Seed.
To Arnold Davis, an honorable sweet-pipe-smoking-man who was born in 1930 to a Kansas sodbuster.
After living a full life, he quietly slipped away in Texas, late December of Y2K
Hey Arnold, how ya doing? It’s been awhile since we’ve talked…
I heard you’re living near RC Mauldin and Dykesterhouse now. Please give
them both a warm embrace. I think of you all often. I just took my old 1978
International Harvester grain truck up to RC’s 60-acre Robinson, Texas home place.
We got there before the bulldozers arrived, and me and a couple of the guys
loaded out the truck with about 12,000 lbs. of roots from the central Texas Indiangrass
and the Eastern gamagrass. You can let him know that his roots are safe for now down
on our Llano River farm. We couldn’t help but shed a tear, though, knowing the new
public school just built on RC’s neighbor’s farm lacked the vision to give young
people a chance to touch the purpose of a man’s (and his wife’s) whole life.
Now the box houses are being built upon it.
But as I expect ya’ll well know,
some time from now when the boxes have fallen down and the concrete foundations
and streets begin to crack open, RC and wife Mildred’s work may once again rise
to receive the blessings of an ever shining Texas sky.
Sometimes I wonder where my own work will end up.
Arnold, remember that time we spent
the weekend in your garage and you taught me how to clean those funky ol’ Mexican Hat seeds?
'Geez, how bad I had hay fever from the dust, I soaked many a hanky. I’ll never
forget how patient you were with me as I struggled to separate the empty lites
from the plump full grains. Sifting and sorting, sniffling and snorting, and
tweaking the bottom blast air on that little Hanson 2-screen fanning mill.
And you didn’t even chastise me nor dash my
young enthusiasm for harvesting the 1196 lbs. of Ratibida columnaris.
To this day, I’m still using
that 20-foot screw conveyor you traded to me years later when I cleaned Johnson
grass out of your Hill County harvest of Illinois Bundleflower seed. And then
that time when we built the Parkhill Prairie in the upper Blacklands.
The seeds were all from local native remnants including the Clymer meadow.
And the testing lab said our seed was no good due to the same old rules
“stating that any mixture submitted for testing which contains any component of
less than 5% of the mixture need not be counted”. And how all the people thought
$490 dollars per acre was SO expensive. Ol’ Jim Eidson, with the Texas Nature
Conservancy now, did his thesis on our work back in the early 1990’s. He concluded
we had established 63 species by the end of the third year
Well, I hadn’t been to a
prairie meeting in a while, till the July 2003 Native Prairie Association of Texas
biennial gather in Austin at Ladybird’s Wildflower Center. Hard to believe how
things have changed since you were here. Maybe I am partly to blame, as I have
spent so much of my time minding my own business. The early days we shared led my
family to dedicate ourselves with 22 other good men and women and their families to
helping people restore this corner of the earth we still call Texas. The work is
intensive as you know; physical, emotional, and healthy. Almost 24/7 as native
seeds wait for no one. We sleep good at night, but sometimes I just need to talk
over things. I appreciate it when you
share your thoughts and wisdom as one who has gone before.
Arnold, I’m worried that
there are many among us who seem to have forgotten the way of it. Some are now
saying the purpose of prairie is to be convenient, tidy, uniform, and at once
productive and cheap. There is much talk now that the seeds of the prairie should
be hastily selected by government agents and non-profit organization volunteers.
These seeds are already being judged regionally on their ability to hold tightly
onto an upright stalk until such time it may be easily harvested by the “Commercial
Native Seed Industry Dealer” (see * note above). Then presumably, at which point
a select few species will be massively produced at an ever-pleasingly lowering
price. I’m worried that some how, this time and place has brought forth an
unspoken concept that the dilemma of the disappearing prairie will be solved by a
licensed agreement between your charitable donations, tax dollars at work, and Wal-Mart.
I understand how easily the people might come to such an illusion, as the masses have been persuaded by appeals
to their patriotic consumerism towards “Free Trading” American agriculture down to
its knees. We are now unbelievably close to losing forever most of the open
pollinated seeds of our major food crops. All because of this silly idea that
makes no sense to give businesses the ownership rights to various forms of life
made by the great creator.
When is the last time they
tried growing tomatoes from the real open pollinated seed? And how about corn now?
Can they save their 10-cent genetically modified seeds from a Wal-Mart crop to
re-plant for next year? Or do they have to re-buy again and again
even though they are hungry to grow wholesome and local?
Arnold, you are one of the
people who taught me that by and large, seeds really are a very important
part of life. In thinking ahead, I wonder what it would be like if we
were meadow mice in the year 2222… we’d be running races against each other
because once upon a time Wal-Mart sold the lowest priced meadow dropseeds,
fashionably designed and licensed to drop off their stems all at once.
It’s Thanksgiving day, our only meal of the year -- and the race is on!
In this year 2222, we’d find
that the Wal-Mart commercial seed industry dealer has been so efficiently productive
of the selected few species that everybody has forgotten to save the other pieces.
The families of seed peoples who once worked so hard to help each do their part in
the web of life will have also been forgotten. Under funded and highly taxed by
the inherent handicap of working in a for-profit capitalist platform, in which the
heartland of the prairie lies, they have come to a dead end as they tried to
compete with charitable non-profit organizations and government agencies in the
market place. And the masses have come to believe that government programs can save
them at a time when the peoples’ government too has been forgotten.
At a time of government trying to remember how to secure our homeland.
Getting on the Same Page
So Arnold, I just want to run a couple of ideas by you. What if the people instead can remember how to co-operate?
And that they can become aware of many things such as how only diverse
ecosystems can provide a constant flow of seeds, falling little by little,
to keep all of us healthy. From the daily diets of harvester ants, who sacrifice some
of their number for the horny toads, who then must sacrifice a
few among themselves for the roadrunner. From the daily needs of meadow mouses and
their spouses, who too are asked to sacrifice for the sharp shinned hawk… and to the
indefinable list of every creature who creepeth upon the earth,
which you now watch over. What if the people remembered that a healthy economy based
on conservation and thrift is indeed the most direct pathway to sustainable living?
What if government agents and non-profit.orgs remembered that some families are growing
native seeds! Especially the ones that have demonstrated their absolute unwillingness
to place profit above stewardship and have refused to participate in the continual
spread of exotic invasive species. What if a spirit of co-operation fell upon the
people to openly discuss among themselves the visions and struggles that might
create a grounded focus on whole habitat systems, and how they might be conserved,
preserved, expanded and multiplied? Wouldn’t it be a more pleasing path in fact if
the .govs and .orgs dedicated their work to saving the discrete, difficult,
indeterminate, threatened, endangered, problematic or otherwise inherently rare
and/or non-profitable seeds?
What if the .gov/.org /co-op
spirited folks really did want the easiest and fastest way to increase whole habitats
in their respective local eco regions? And they knew where the remnants were, and
encouraged teaching the native values to the local people? As you know, the real
purpose of .gov/.orgs used to be about providing assistance in matters of civic concern
and education. For example, we gladly give our tax and
charitable dollars to provide the following:
Stewardship and landowner education programs which offer species ID, protection and conservation methods,
ecological grazing methods, and prescribed burning assistance.
Regional education on invasive and non native species and how to begin holistic control and elimination programs
Promotion and encouragement of local horticultural practices that teach the use of native species in ecological landscapes and wildlife habitats
Public educational programs that focus on the whole connectedness of all habitats/all species; including man and woman as being only a part of the whole.
A constant stream of public service announcements leading to the accomplishment of the above objectives
Most people today are still
unaware and unable to think in the simplest terms about “what is a watershed”.
Just exactly where in the watershed does one live? Who will teach them?
These are some of the missing cutting-edge parts of the equation. By nature these parts
of the equation are very difficult for a for-profit business to provide, although many a
for-profit business would be happy to support these activities with some of the money
they earn. Who will provide these missing pieces if not .gov,.org or .edu? Needless to
say, probably not the Wal-Mart “commercial seed industry dealer.”
Educating and preparing a behaviorally
qualified marketplace to receive mixtures of native seeds should become top priority.
What if the local regional .gov,.org or .edu called up the harvester families and
opened the gates to meeting local landowners? They all work together, moving mixtures
of diverse native prairie seeds 10 feet, 10 blocks,
10 miles over the next hill and replanting them in all their mysterious glory.
Can a more sensible pathway be
made available for dedicated native seed farmers and harvesters to fairly conduct their
business? Could this become an even more pleasing and popular vision of how the future
unfolds? All of us know the business part of restoration must be profitable or it will
perish just like Grandpa’s farm and his old ways of organic soil conservation.
Arnold, I respectfully request
the elders to give forth their wisdom very soon, so that it may enable all the people
to become more efficient educators in the ways of prairie. Help us be ready to receive
your signs that may be useful guidance tools. Help us to live and work in ways that
are pleasing to those of you who have gone before,
and those that have yet to come. See ya later, Arnold.
Who was Arnold Davis? One of the fathers of Texas’ prairie
restoration efforts. After spending a lifetime working for the USDA Soil
Conservation Service and promoting the use of KR Bluestem, he retired
and was founding director of the Native Prairie Association of Texas
(NPAT) to which he dedicated the remainder of his life. A mentor to the
early days, which helped transform Neiman Environments native nursery
and landscape construction company into Native American Seed.
Who was R. C. Mauldin? A tireless gentleman blackland farmer who dedicated many
years to the Soil Conservation Service. He was a mentor to Arnold Davis and was
instrumental in helping Arnold see the light concerning the ill effects of using of
Who was Dyksterhouse? A lifetime worker of the Soil Conservation Service who
wrote the first and most definitive plant and soil descriptions of the Texas Cross
Timbers eco-regions. He was a mentor to R. C. Mauldin.
All three of these men have long ago passed on from this life to the next.