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Of Planted Seeds And Giants

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.   -Isaac Newton

Please indulge me a few thoughts indirectly connected to quail conservation.  Sheryl and I graduated our son from high school last week.  Patrick did well in school, very well, as did his older sister, Kelly.  Why they did so well is not completely knowable with any degree of certainty, but I credit the outdoors and quail among the important influences in their lives. 

Patrick and Kelly, Bobwhite Brigade graduates

Kel and Patch grew up immersed in the outdoors on our rural 95 acres of heaven in central Arkansas.  Among the first books I read cover-to-cover to them at bedtimes was Robert Ruark’s The Old Man and the Boy, and its companion, The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older, helping stimulate them to become voracious readers. 

By 1st grade, Kelly had studied and memorized much of Peterson’s Field Guide to Insects, a technical reference I used in college entomology.  Both kids caught and submitted for the record several species of reptiles and amphibians never before documented in Lonoke County. They each killed their first squirrels with my grandfather’s old .22 Remington, the same rifle I used for my first squirrels. Patrick has become a skilled nature photographer, and Kelly enjoys woodcarving. They have plucked porcupine quills out of a bird dog’s face in the shortgrass prairie of Montana, helped me burn our quail meadow, and soberly pondered the meaning of the human skeleton we found while chasing Gambel’s quail in the Arizona desert.

But neither is pursuing a career in wildlife conservation. 

Kelly is studying chemical engineering to develop cleaner sources of alternative energy, and Patrick aspires to help cure cancer through medical research. More power to them! I am confident, though, both of them always will deeply appreciate wildlife, the outdoors and conservation, and they will never lose that connection or those roots. 

My confidence was confirmed by Patrick’s valedictorian speech Saturday. I had no direct input in its content. He wouldn’t even let his mother or me see or hear his speech beforehand, so it would be a complete surprise. Indirect input, however, can be more important and even more revealing.

About 5 years ago, we sent both kids to Texas for a week with the Bobwhite Brigade. Dr. Dale Rollins (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service) and his dedicated associates have inspired a movement that one cannot fully appreciate without having a participating child. The Brigade combines conservation education and youth leadership development in a way unique to my experiences.  The short-term benefit to my kids of that intense week in the hot Texas desert was clearly apparent; the longer-term effects had been more difficult to judge.

Then I heard Patrick’s theme of “standing on the shoulders of giants.” I wish it was my idea. As soon as he began elaborating on the giants in his and all the 2013 graduates’ lives, I concluded (correctly as it turned out) that the seeds planted by Rollins and the Brigade had sprouted and are growing. 

I wish I had the maturity and intelligence at that age to stand in front of friends, classmates, family and community to acknowledge the importance of giants.  But now I am certain, and deeply gratified, that my kids will be bringing the wisdom of quail conservation and a leadership spirit to their careers in alternative energy and medical research.  And to all those around them.

(For more information regarding the Bobwhite Brigade, please visit http://www.texasbrigades.org/Camps/Bobwhite-Brigade/


Don McKenzie

Former NBCI Director, Don McKenzie is a product of the deep South, steeped in its cultures of hunting, fried catfish, barbeque and SEC football. He survived an abrupt transition from hip boots in South Carolina to dark suits in Washington, DC as a professional wildlife advocate specializing in agriculture conservation policy.

During 6 ½ years in DC, he engaged the community of southeastern bobwhite quail biologists, and soon became their most active representative on federal conservation policy issues. McKenzie eventually arose as a national leader for what now is recognized as arguably the largest and most difficult wildlife conservation challenge of this era—restoring huntable and sustainable populations of wild bobwhites across much of their range. He was a facilitator and editor of the original “Northern (now “National”) Bobwhite Conservation Initiative,” published in 2002, and has been the national leader for implementing the initiative since 2004.