INTERVIEWEE: George Bristol (GB)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: February 21, 2008
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Rhonda Wheeler and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2394 and 2395
Please note that the corresponding videos include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to background noise or off-camera conversation that is unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. And we’re in Austin, Texas. It’s February 21, 2008 and we have the good opportunity to be visiting with George Bristol today. And he has a—a very diverse background in everything from business to lobbying to fundraising to running a non-profit, to poetry and photography and probably many other things we’ll learn about in a moment. But with that I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
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GB: Thank you f—thank you for being here.
DT: How about if we start with your childhood and—and ask you if there was a time that you can trace back where you first maybe got some exposure to the outdoors or to nature.
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GB: Yeah, well, I can’t think of a time I didn’t David, because when I grew up in the 40’s and the 50’s in Texas and mainly small towns ‘til we moved to Austin, which, by the way, was a small town, in f—1952. It—it took no time to—to get out into the woods, if you will, and whether it was Denton, Texas or Weatherford, Texas or Orange or a number of places we lived, and it was certainly walking distance, bicycling distance and—and we—we—we—we went out and we went on—on farmers’ property. You know, we’d go to—down to creeks and things like that and we’d hunt, shoot squirrels and things. And there was a m—more openness among farmers and ranchers and wh—about letting people on their land. We never had any trouble. I mean, every once in a while we’d get run off, but not often. So nature was almost into the towns that—that I grew up in. And then on the other hand, my—my mother
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and my grandfathers and, you know, they—they were big on parks and so we went out to state parks on our vacation, not only here, but in Oklahoma and Arkansas, went to a couple national parks in the process. So, th—then when we moved to Austin, which was the first time we—we had an automobile, you know, we went to the beach and to San Antonio, monuments and Bastrop State Park, other parks around the area and we would c—camp out and—or have picnics, whatever else. So my childhood was filled with the outdoors. I—it wasn’t quite like living on a farm but it—it was small enough—even Austin, I could ride my bicycle in any direction within a half day’s time, ev—even to mysterious South Austin, which was across the river. So i—it just was a natural part of—of my being then and unfortunately it’s not the same. You know, kids today couldn’t ride their bicycle or walk to—across Austin. They
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might not make it to the other side and if they did make it, it goes on forever and ever and ever, so there’s a big difference. But we—we could go to the woods whenever we wanted and we did, we did, all the k—all the kids did.
DT: What—was there, at least sort of give us an idea of what you might’ve done when you—you weren’t in school, was there any experience in school? Did you have a teacher that might have been an inspiration or some connection to nature and environmental protection or science, anything that might’ve touched on conservation?
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GB: Well my mother’s side, who was a school teacher here in—in junior high, there was a science teacher, Dr. Davis, who—we called him Dr. ma—o—ma—only because he knew what a test-tube was. But he would take us out to—we—I can remember we went to—to Bull Creek, right where the—the county line is now, you know, and we studied frogs and turtles and fish and things like that. My—my Boy Scout leader was a—was a great outdoors person and we went to this encampment and that encampment over five or six years period when I was in the Boy Scouts. And then I had an English teacher in high school who was not so much a environmentalist or conservationist but she loved the nature poets and—and the nature writers and—and
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so I g—I began to get some grounding in that area also. Then later on in—in college, I—I had a couple teachers that encouraged me to—to—to get a summer job in—in the national parks, which I did.
DT: What—where was that job?
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GB: Glacier National Park. Back in those days, they had big trail crews that fixed up the trails and we also did firefighting. And it was sort of like a—w—a—a military academy appointment. I went through Congressman Jim Wright, for instance, and got my job, had to fill out a little inf—application telling why I want the job. But it was a great, you know, great job. I had it for two summers. And Glacier’s been a part of my life ever since then and I—I do go back two or three times a year.
DT: It’s—this is maybe a little bit out of sequence, but since you mentioned Glacier National Park, I’ve heard that that’s one of the parks that has seen the greatest change because of the climate. Have you noticed that from when you first went up there to now, the difference in the number and extent of the glacier?
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GB: Oh sure, oh yeah. And two weeks ago in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, they had a series of pictures of Glacier—the Grinnell Glacier, which at one time was one of the largest. And they had it at the turn of the last century and they had it mid century, sort of when I was there. And then 1988, I think, and today and it had—and it’s greatly, it’s greatly diminished and it’s more rapid now. And—and yes, I believe that global warming is a problem but glaciers were on the retreat anyway. It’s just that they are retreating faster than the s—than the scientists originally thought, but you can see a marked difference. Now the—the—the beauty of it is that it is creating a new lake at—at the top and there’s enough snowfall still, that it will f—forever be a lake with some icebergs in it, but not—not—not glaciers as we know them. They’ll be gone by 2030, 2040.
DT: Well we’ll get back on track, that’s interesting i—insight though from, you know, when you first went there to when it—when you most recently visited. I think that—that you’ve had a—a diverse career in business and—and I was hoping that you could maybe touch on the things that—that might relate to conservation while you’re, you know, trying to pay the mortgage and anything that—that might have been an overlap there that comes to mind?
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GB: Well, you can’t get rich in conservation. So I—I did, when I got out of college, I went to Washington, worked for Congressman Jake Pickle, came back here and—and worked for an advertising firm, then I went back to Washington and worked for Hubert Humphrey. And so there wasn’t anything really that stands out, although I—I took advantage when I lived in Washington to go to the Shenandoah Valley and to Gettysburg and to a number of places. But, there—civil rights was a big issue at the time and then and a number of other issues. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t paying attention to it and—and because of the war and some other—other things during the 60’s. You know, John—Lyndon Johnson had a great conservation and environmental package that passed in 1967, created a number of new parks. It created the National Park Foundation, did a number of th—number of other things. It—it set up the—the Clean Air Act et cetera, et cetera. But I, you know, I was more interested
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in—i—i—frankly at that time in civil rights and a number of other issues. But I never l—lost a chance and I’ll give you an example, a lot of times I would drive back from Washington and I would try to always go a different route. So I could go by Mammoth Cave in Kentucky or I could go down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, just here there and yonder and—and—and see the various sites along the way and I went to most of them. But i—i—it—you know, when you have a family, I’ve tried to get them in—involved early and we went up to Montana and such, but when you’re meeting a payroll and paying for other people to work for you and stuff, you don’t have as much time as you do later on. And—but we—we as a family wo—did go to Glacier a lot. And then in 1980 I had some pretty substantial accumulation of assets, so we took a year off, m—moved to Montana, lived in Wh—Whitefish, Montana, which is right down the road from various places, really not with the intention of doing anything except learning to ski together and enjoy the outdoors and et cetera. But while I was up there, I was approached by some people and I put
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a partnership together and we built a—a ski lodge, had forty-eight rooms. And then while we were building that, we really went crazy and some other people came to see us and we built a hundred and fifty-six room resort hotel down in Whitefish. So for twenty years, I had two properties up there that, you know, at least I—when I went on trips up there, I could write them off as—as a business expense. So—but it was good to have a place so that I could get back and forth to Glacier on a—on a pretty regular basis. And the—the kids loved it, they have a—they all love the outdoors, they all love the national parks and so it’s—it’s one of the legacies I’ll—I’ll leave to them, which is pretty important.
DT: And—and you talked a little bit about your—your time in—in Washington, D.C. in the 60’s and—and two things, sort of, came to mind when you mentioned fo—Lyndon Johnson’s legacy. One was the legislation that he passed in ‘67 and then the National Parks Foundation that he created. And I believe you served on the board of that?
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GB: Yes, yeah.
DT: (?). I was wondering if you could tell me what you, you know, know about the legislation and also about the foundation and maybe your continuing involvement there
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GB: Well, there r—there really was no one organization, David, to direct private philanthropy to the benefit of the national parks. And Mrs. Johnson and Laurence Rockefeller got together. The Rockefellers had bought many, many pieces of property and held it until the Congress could catch up and fund the—this park or that park. I mean, yo—you could go on and on, the Tetons, the Blue Ridge, the Virgin Islands, the one in Maine, I’m having a—huh?
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GB: Acadia. And so part of the ‘67 Act was the foundation of the National Park Foundation. Laurence Rockefeller was its first chair. The—it is a board comprised of pr—private citizens appointed by the Secretary of Interior, but with the okay and approval o—of the White House. And their job is to foster private philanthropy toward the national parks. The national parks have always benefited, from day one, from Yellowstone when landowners there got together and said it was t—too magnificent to—to be any one of their properties and they championed setting up a national park. And that was the first national park we had. Private industry, some of the great western parks were championed by the railroads. Glacier Park, where we like to hang our hat was a—a direct outgrowth of the interest of—of Louis Hill and the—and the Great Northern Railroad, Union Pacific, s—the—the—s—Southern
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Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, all of them. Grand Canyon has a railroad, you know, that went right to it. So—an—and they had the political muscle an—an—and tha—and that’s important because a lot of times people in the conservation and the environmental movement, they—they—they either don’t like business, sometimes with good reason, and they don’t like power, sometimes with no good reason at all. But you have to know how to-to—to make things happen and—and those railroad barons knew how to make things happen. But they gave us the—the genesis of a—of a s—set of beginning parks. So that—that—that all culminated in ‘67 and—and since then during the 70’s, early 80’s, it was—it did a lot of good things. In the—in the Reagan years, unfortunately it—it kind of fell down. In the Bush years and Clinton years it—it came back up. When I was on—very active, raise—started raising a lot of money. Today, it is still raising a lot of money. And, in fact, Reagan Gammon, who lives here in Austin, who I recruited to go on the board after I got off,
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is now the Vice-Chairman of the National Park Foundation, so that it’s—it—it is now a recognized organization on the thr—philanthropic side. On the—on the advocacy side, is the National Park and Conservation Association and it was set up by Teddy Roosevelt and others for that very—very thing, to really advocate for the parks. The National Park Foundation is a creature of Congress and it was chartered by Congress and it can’t lobby, per se but NPCA certainly can and does.
DT: You talked just a moment ago about—about politics and power and fundraising and I was wondering if you could talk some about how you get the muscle and to—to leverage whatever sort of policy you might be wanting to push through a state legislative body or put through the feds wi—with maybe some examples of your experience in—in both fundraising and lobbying.
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GB: Right. Well, you know, they’re—they’re basically the same. You have to find that part of a cause that is appealing either to l—an elected official or to a donor and—and go sell it and it—it takes a lot of selling. You know, we’ll get into it later, but getting funding for state parks took the better part of six years t—to accomplish. And—and a lot of great causes. We—we talked about civil r—rights, my goodness, it was pushed for twenty years, thirty years or at least the modern day Civil Rights Bills. Some of the conservation (?), some of the national parks, I mean, they almost have a knockdown drag out range war in Wyoming over the creation of the Grand Tetons. I mean, it—it was old cowboys on horseback ready to f—challenge the federal government for taking over that—that—that ranchland. Now the mere fact the Rockefellers owned it all, kind of, escaped them. But good causes take a while, but if you can find the right keys and you can c—find the right power sources and—
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And—or the right money, it—it—it sure helps. It—it doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but eventually to get a law passed, particularly in Texas, the Texas legislature is set up to kill bills, not to pass them. You have to have at least one or two of the leadership and one or two spear carriers, don’t need the whole group. In fact, it’s a lot better sometimes if you kind of run below—a—a little below the radar but have one or two key leaders to—to help push it through.
DT: Well maybe you can give us some examples to illustrate what you’re talking about through the lens of the Texas Conservation Alliance, which I think you—you’ve been so involved with the last, would you say, six, seven years.
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GB: Right. Well, first of all and it was kind of a chicken and egg deal, I went out after I did this sort of year study and I found people that not only had money to contribute but also had some political savvy on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, certainly in Texas, you need that now. People like Tim Hixon and Karen in—in San Antonio, who are great conservationists but at the same time, they’re—they’re very high up in—in the Republican circles. And at the same time, people like John Montford, who is my dear friend and was a state senator who—who passed the sporting goods tax originally and—and is with AT&T and have been very supportive o—of me and in—and all and all around the state. So I took a hard look-see to see where I would need to—to get sources of either p—people who knew legislators or money or both and I went after them. I—I have—I’ve had a—a good
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Background. One thing we didn’t cover is for a number of years I was closely associated with Senator Lloyd Bentsen, ran his campaign in 1976 and was his finance chairman in ‘76 and ’82. So I knew people all over the state and could easily call and get in the door and see people. Some people were—were—were f—for park funding and, you know, some of the people, they weren’t really against it , David, it’s just they had other things to do, education, higher education, things like that. But I’d put enough of a advisory committee together and a board of directors and then a lot of—of—of groups toward the end, last year when we got it passed. We had over two hundred organizations, conservation organizations, local organizations. We had over a hundred chamber of commerces and cities and counties and mayors that endorsed full funding. So it—it takes some time to build, you got to be patient to b—to build
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an organization from scratch and that’s basically what we did. But—and you got to be prepared to be disappointed because as I said before, the Texas legislature is set up to kill bills and they do on a very regular basis.
DT: Well and—and you said the—the—the trick is finding the key, trying to find the appeal that would be interesting to whatever donor or political operator that you’re trying to talk to. Can yo—can you explain a little bit about the—the economic studied that you helped put together to show how important these parks are?
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GB: Well, that was one thing that—that I almost instinctively knew. And then I, just by luck, ran into Dr. John Crompton at Texas A&M. You know, you can talk ‘til you’re blue in the face about the spiritual and physical benefits of parks or fishing or whatever, but if you could tie it to economic benefit, then you’ve got something you can sell to the chamber of commerces and to legislators. And—and w—so what we did in ‘90 and I’m sorry, 2002 leading into to 2003, we commissioned a s—study of forty parks to get a sampling, at the time there were about a hundred and fifteen parks in the system, but a good sampling. And A&M did the study for us, Dr. John Crompton and his staff. So that we—and we did it on a park-by-park, location-by-
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location buis—basis so that it would have a local relevancy to the hotel owner, to the gas station owner, to the café owner, to the mayor et cetera, et cetera. It wasn’t this amorphous thing called state parks, it was their state park, Bastrop or, you know, Guadalupe or whatever. And then we took that to the legislature. We didn’t get thrown out of anybody’s office but we didn’t get any encouragement either, because in 2003, we had a ten billion dollar deficit in the State of Texas and nothing was going anywhere. But we did create a lot of goodwill and—and we kind of chipped away at the edges and we got a few little minor things passed. But it was a—it was a terrible time for Parks and Wildlife Department and—and other state agency too. It was a terrible time for everybody. After that session, a fellow by the name of Ernest Angelo who was on the Parks and Wildlife Commission from Midland,
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Texas, a conservative Republican, called me one day and came by the office and said he s—I think you’re onto something and I think maybe i—if we can put a plan together, the speaker might be willing to help. He likes parks and he and his wife go to parks, the national parks and such. So we—he and I spent about three or four days at his place in—in Colorado in the summer of 2004. And all the t—time we were doing that, I was putting out economic—not—not just economic benefits of—of parks but once a month I—I sent out to legislators and newspapers and such. Yo—you and Emily probably got them, it was the economic benefits of fishing and hunting and, you know, rivers and so, et cetera, et cetera. And we came up with a plan, a financing plan based on the sporting goods tax, which is part of the sales tax
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of Texas. And we took it to the speaker and he liked it and he said he would back it. And then I went to see R—Representative Harvey Hildebrand, who was the Chairman of the Culture Natural Recreation and Tourism Committee, well, that’s what it’s called now. And he agreed to carry it, which beca—it became House Bill 1292. Now it was the Authorizing Bill. And one of the things that a lot of people, not just the conservation world, make the mistake on, is you pass an Authorizing Bill but you don’t get the appropriation and that’s kind of like kissing your cousin. It just doesn’t do much. And so we, at the same time, began to visit with—with the appropriators. The economy was a little better. There was money in the bank and w—we went out and we—we—we—we lobbied, we—we used a separate organization from TCC, a organization called TORA, which is the Texas Outdoor Recreation Alliance and that’s the Academy Stores and the Bass Pro’s and the Cabela’s and distributors of hunting
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and fishing and camping equipment. And we really had a team put together and then the legislature got into the God awful fact on school financing. And the House—the Speaker and this Lieutenant Governor got totally at odds with each other and so the Speaker’s office called and said we’re going to have to pull you—your Bill and about three hundred other bills because they have financing tied to them. And I was terribly disappointed. And we tried to resurrect some, we tried several approaches with the Speaker’s office to—to try to s—well, they just—i—it just turned into a Donnybrook, in—in effect, the legislature quit about a month early. And then they came back, if you remember that special session on school financing in the
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summertime. Well, they got that out of their system. So I had—I had told my finance people of TCC and—and the—the major foundations like the Houston Endowment that I was going to do it through 2005 and that was it. I turned 65, had other things to do. But after the session, the Speaker and a number of others came and said look, let’s—let’s do one more crack at this thing and I said alright. So I went back and talked to my people and I talked to myself a lot and—and talked to the major foundations and so we put a two year financing package for the Texas Coalition for Conservation. And then perversely we got very lucky. We had what’s known as the Big Bend State Ranch Sale Crisis, which was the proposed selling of forty-seven thousand acres to a private landowner. As I have said and have been quoted in the newspaper, it may have been the greatest deal since sliced bread, but
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the way it was handled, the perception was, it was a giveaway and it was done in the—going to be done in the dark of night and it was just horrible and i—it just blew up in—in—in Parks and Wildlife face. And—but it a—pointed out how little money they had. And then it…
DT: This might be a good chance to say how little money did Parks and Wildlife have, ho—how deep a hole were they in?
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GB: I’ll—I’ll—I’ll tell you in just about two or three sentences. Then the—Rita and Katrina hit, which also destroyed a lot of parks, among other things. But they couldn’t get a supplemental appropriation. In Texas you can go to what’s known as the Legislative Budget Board in the interim between sessions and if they have funds available, they’ll—they’ll switch. They didn’t have the funds after Katrina and Rita to do that. And so by December of 2005 into—to January 2006, Parks and Wildlife ha—had to—begun to partially close a number of parks, cut off personnel—a lot of them—and cut down all programs, particularly those aimed at children. Well, fortunately I and others had done enough work with the newspapers, they had all these economic studies, they—they had been prepped, if you will, and they just almost—almost to a newspaper in Texas, big and small, radio stations, television stations, they went bananas over the state of our parks. So it gave us a great
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opportunity, based on this perverse luck that we had. And one of the things that happened, prompted in large part because of all these crises following each other, I had been working with the Chairman of the Parks and Wildlife Commission, Joseph Fitzsimmons, to reappoint a first class heavy hitting State Parks Advisory Committee, and he did in—in 2006, spring of 2006. And it was chaired by John Montford, who I’ve just, a while ago explained, helped pass the—the Bill that really was to fund parks. And I was the Vice-Chairman and we had Andy Sansom and l—a lot of other people from around the state on the—on the board. And we studied for six months all the financing mechanisms. We looked at other things besides the sporting goods tax and came to the conclusion that the sporting goods tax, which was initially set up
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because it was a growing portion of the sales tax. And it had grown. It was—in 2006, it was like a hundred and five million, but it had been capped at thirty-two million in 1995 and had remained capped. So everything was stagnant, even as costs were going through the roof. And we recommended the expenditure of new funds of about ninety million a year, a hundred and eighty million for—or a little more than that, actually, for the biennium—for the biennium about a hundred and ninety-five million dollars. And it got a lot of press, had a big press conference, got a lot of press, did a mandatory board tour, went out to the chamber of commerces and the mayors and such and we got them all on board. And we had a whole package put together with people designated to go see their House and Senate
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members. And we went back in 2007 in the session and we got it passed. B—but it was interesting because there were, again, there were peripheral facts that some had nothing to do with us and some did. It was the last Bill on the last day that passed. And it was interesting because the Speaker, as you may recall, got in a—real hot water, not only the Democrats, but a lot of the Republicans wanted to unseat him right before the session ended and a lot of my conservation and environmental friends were yelling unseat him and I was yelling not yet because he was for our Bill. And he held it and he—he—he—he made it pass. So I give a—a lot of credit to—to the Speaker f—for doing that, a lot of other people helped. But it gets back to my point, you need—you need one or two of those real power sources, the Governor, the Speaker, Lieutenant Governor, a chairman, particularly a chairman
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of the Appropriation Committee. But underneath that we—we had—I think we wound up out of a hundred and fifty House members, we had a hundred and twenty-eight House sponsors. And we, out of thirty-one Senators, we had twenty-three or twenty-four Senators. So, they were all on record a—as—as wanting to do so. But it—we—it—it took all of us pushing every single day during the session to—to make it happen and it damn near didn’t.
DT: And—and the people that ended up supporting you, I’m curious what their arguments were and—and those that decided not to be co-sponsors and—and not to vote for the Bill. Why did they take that position?
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GB: The ones that supported us had gotten the message. They—back home, whether it was Bastrop or Brownwood or wherever, they ha—their local papers, their local chambers had gone to see them, et cetera, et cetera, so they had gotten the message. Th—the people who—who didn’t support it broke down into two categories. One is a natural function of the legislature and that is, the—the—the main appropriators of the finance committee and the—and the House Appropriation Committee, they don’t—they rare—rarely sign onto any Bill because they’ve got to f—fund the money, so they’ve got to remain neutral. Now not all of them, in fact, some of them who didn’t sign the Bill were of great help to us, but that’s just the natural thing. There were a few diehard skinflints that just, you know, didn’t think
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p—people need parks, you know, yo—yo—you just can’t—there’s no logic to what they’re saying, but that’s just how their feeling is. But if it had come to a real fight, we could’ve rolled them. We had enough votes to roll them. I—but we never had to, but we would’ve.
DT: So at the close of the 2007 session, you managed to get this bill passed and appropriation insured, where was the money going to come from to fund that appropriation?
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GB: From—from general revenue fr—of the sales tax. Even though they lifted the cap on the s—the quote sporting goods tax, it’s really not a separate tax per se, David, it’s part of the general sales tax. The vast a—amount of the hundred and eighty million, you remember I said we asked for about a hundred and ninety-five million and we got a hundred and eighty million, some of it from bond, which we had recommended and as an alternative, out—coming out of the Montford Committee, particularly for major repairs. And there are some big ones and there’s about a four hundred million dollar backlog. Now, what we hoped would pass, which didn’t, is that there would be a bond strictly for parks that would cover ten years at about twenty-five or thirty million dollars a year to—to—to get rid of this backlog of—of
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major repairs. Then there were two big ticket items, the battleship Texas and the r—Texas Railroad, both of them tremendously expensive to maintain. And we recommended, I think it was sixty million for the battleship and twenty million for the—for the railroad and that it be done by bonds also. Ultimately the battleship Texas, the first twenty-five million was put in a bond package along with some of this other major repair funding for parks. The railroad cr—created a separate authority, bonding authority out there in East Texas. And the legislature said fine, you do your own deal and we will appropriate—I think it was ten million dollars, but it’s going to become a locally run deal. It’ll still have a state park function at the train stations but not the operation of the railroad. And that—that took going to the voters, which I was not opposed to. Every poll in Texas, every ballot measure or
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most every ballot measure, when it has parks attached, it always passes. I don’t care whether it’s Harris County or Kimble County or Austin or wherever it—or statewide. So I was glad to have that opportunity this past November to have something on the ballot that had parks. And then it, you know, it passed by eighty—fifty-eight percent, good solid vote. And so w—so where will the money go? Part of it is—is mundane stuff, minor repairs, minor equipment repairs, minor equipment replacement, just day-to-day, lawnmowers and, you know, little things. But it—it’s the little things that get repaired that keep them from becoming major repairs. And that’s been part of the problem, these—the—bathrooms have just deteriorated and deteriorated and finally they had to, you know, just bulldoze the whole thing and
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start all over. Some of those bathrooms were built by the CCC during the 1930’s for God sake and they hadn’t been visited back since then. There are some major repairs like the battleship. They either have to do it right and really fix it this time and there is a way to do it but it’s costly or they ought to find some alternative because if you fix it and then keep setting it back in that saltwater marsh, there at San Jacinto, it’s going to rot all over again. Steel and saltwater just don’t go together for very long. Other funds, th—there was some money for—for new lands acquisition, not a lot. We had off—we had asked for twenty-five million for ten years. They got about sixteen million. But it was only for a two year cycle, so I think the next session, I don’t think, I know, we’ve got to get some of those areas
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that we didn’t get as much of and then we c—get—try to get—make it a permanent fund, which is going to take a constitutional amendment. Now that’s—that’s a tough one to sell the legislature. Legislators don’t like dedicated funds and they certainly don’t like constitutionally voted on by the people dedicated funds. But it is the only way that you can protect the money year-in and year-out so that you can have a good business plan, you know, to h—to—to hell with the conservation aspect or the spiritual or p—physical. But just to be able year after year after year draw plans, let contracts get the work done so you don’t get these huge backlogs. So I’m a—I’m p—pretty sure that that’s what we’ll concentrate on this next time.
DT: Well I have two follow-ups, one on the funding side and one on the expenditure side. I—there’s a lot of interest in tolling roads and I—I understand there was some interest in seeing what they could get at the gate to support park activities. And I was curious if you could talk about, you know, to what extent parks can generate their own support. And the second thing I wanted to ask you about is that it seems like Texas has a large investment in parks that are quite distant from where people live and, you know what it—do you have some strategies for getting parks closer to where, you know, these—the big cities of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin?
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GB: Well, let me speak to the first one. First of all, parks never were meant to make money except in terms of drawing tourists to a given area who would spend their money on hotels and cafés and gasoline and the fishing and hunting, camping equipment, whatever. And that was true at the national level and it was certainly true at the s—at the state level. Governor Pat Neff, who was about as conservative a governor as you ever would get, recognized the importance of state parks coming out of the National Park Act of 1916 as a place where this newfangled thing, the automobile could g—go and a family could go and have a picnic or spend the night or camp or whatever else and attract tourists from out of state. Keep the money in the state and attract money from out of state. The state parks over the years have b—have done just that. Now interestingly enough, David, for all the finishing in last place categories, Texas has found itself forty-nine percent in per capita expenditure. We’ve done a very good job at raising revenue at the gate, not too high, it’s still a bargain, at the campsites, at the RV hookups, at the camp stores, et cetera,
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et cetera. And I can’t f—f—I—I’ve got too many numbers in my large but full brain, but roughly forty percent of the appropriated am—mount is generated back from d—direct fees and such. But that still misses the—the point and the point is those economic impact studies of what the additional benefit that flows to the community in hotel, motel e—expenditures, tremendous benefit, particularly the small—small towns. Now there is no question that the state park system that was mainly j—built in the 20’s and 30’s with—and then some during the 50’s and 60’s and not much after that, is centered around s—small towns. That’s not a bad thing. Some of o—our cities are way too overcrowded as it is. Second of all, it’s—it’s cheaper to run those facilities in small towns than it is in big cities. However, there is no question
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that we need some more state parks near our major metropolitan areas. In the Land and Water Resources Planned Parks and Wildlife of 19—of 2002 or 3, I forgot what it is, they call for at least four parks of five thousand acres within a mile—within and hour and a half driving time. And then they didn’t—they had no money to do anything with it.
DT: This was the study that David Sibley did at Texas Tech?
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GB: No, this was done by Parks and Wildlife, an internal document, but it, y—you know, sent to all the legislature. It—it’s—it’s a drop in the bucket, I mean, we need more than four parks, new parks. We’re going to be, you know, we’re going to double in population by 2040 and we’re going to need more than four parks, but at least that was a starting point. You got to get to four before you go to five. And our committee recommended twenty-five million a year in a bond package. So hopefully, if they get—really got s—something great that costs thirty million dollars, they can go ahead and buy it and get it ready, get it developed and—and—and in use. We—we didn’t get that. There’s fallacy in b—c—conservation and park deva—
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bate that you must fix up what you have before you can do anything new. Well that doesn’t apply to anything except parks. We, you know, we have roads that are deteriorating but we’re building new roads all the time. We have schools that are deteriorating but we’re building new schools all the time. So it just doesn’t wash and it—it—it doesn’t wash because the end result is, you ge—never get anything new because parks—it’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, you start at one end and by the time you get to the other end p—repainted, you got to go paint it all over again. You—you’re always going to have repairs and maintenance and s—and such. Any—any business, my hotel in Montana, every year we set aside a portion of the budget for operation and maintenance. And we do that before we pay the banks and we do
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that before we pay ourselves or anything else. Every hotel, and there’s a great analogy between hotels and parks, they’re a service, they’re where people come, where they want good clean restrooms, good clean campgrounds, beaches, et cetera, et cetera. And if you let them deteriorate, which Texas has done, those clientele, those visitors will leave and it’s damned hard to get them back. And the same thing is true as a hotel. So in the good years and bad years and I’ve told the legislature this, you cannot make this commitment just in the good years. You’ve got to have this funding day in and day out because one thing about recessions is that people go to their local areas rather than take a trip, you know, to Montana to see Glacier National Park. They cut back but they still got to get the kids out of the
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house and in the parks. Bu—but from a—f—from a societal standpoint, the reason you need parks closer in, there’s no question as we have grown and pinched in on ourselves, there’s less and less of that ability, going back to the outset of this conversation, of being able to get out into the woods. There’re all kinds of studies. I think the most definitive one is—is the—is Richard Lewis book, The Last Ch—Child in the Woods where there’s beginning to be a dis—gen—generational disconnect. Two or three generations now have lived in the cities. They don’t get out in the—in—into the park system. And eventually they’re not going to even have a clue as to what’s out there. Well that’s dangerous for their own m—mental and physical wellbeing, but it’s also dangerous to society because you get a big f—funding fight, let’s say, in twenty years on parks again or some other conservation measure,
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water. And they won’t h—they won’t have any understanding of the consequences of—of demeaning nature. They don’t—won’t mean to hurt it. They just won’t have any benchmark to—to—to reference off of. And that’s—there are a lot of stur—studies lately, they were beginning to show that—that’s happening to kids. They—they just—they don’t have any clue whatsoever and that is a very dangerous thing from a societal point of view.
DT: And you said there’s also a—for mental health or physical health connection for kids, nature, parks, that—keeping that linkage alive. Wh—can you explain a little bit about that?
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GB: Well, it’s—it’s kind of common sense. And—and b—by the way, older people too. First of all you got to get out of the crowding that—that goes on, you got to have some islands of civility. You—you got—need to be able to walk and to hike and to canoe and to kayak and to get physical exercise. I mean, you know, we’re—we’re becoming a nation of obesity. And one of the reasons is w—we—you know, we don’t exercise; we don’t get our kids out. But I also think, and this is George Bristol, that by getting people out where they can connect with nature and/or the culture of their state or nation, they become better citizens and they be—they—they become more civil toward one another. And, you know, I can’t prove it but I can certainly see
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when you keep bunching people tighter and tighter and tighter together, without any re—any release, they can go off halfcocked at an—any—any one moment. And now they’re beginning to do it all over the world.
DT: Let’s take a moment of…
[End of reel 2394]
DT: We’re continuing with—with the interview wi—with George Bristol here on February 21st, 2008. And we’ve spoken a good deal about his work with Texas Coalition for Conservation and its effort to get secure funding for the state park system here in Texas. But he’s got other interests in conservation and—and one is that in 2006 he was chosen as the Chair of the Board of Texas Audubon, a leading wildlife group here. And I was hoping you could tell a little bit about how you got involved with Audubon and what some of the initiatives have been that—that Audubon’s been pushing to pass in future years.
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GB: Well, I have a lot of good friends like Andy Sansom and Chris Harte and others on the Audubon National and State Board. And they asked me, interestingly enough, they asked me to c—come and be the executive director. And I’m—I’m trying to get out of those kind of deals. I don’t mind working on what I want to work on but I don’t want a day job much longer. But I did agree to go on the board and then through some circumstances, they—they needed a chair and asked me if I’d do it. So I—I said I would do it for a year, David, to—Audubon Texas had been in transition. And they needed, not a workout artist, like corporate but they needed somebody that co—could come in, put a board together, write their finances, et cetera, et cetera, so I did. And th—that has all p—pretty well taken place now. And,
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you know, I often tell groups that I speak to, it sounds like I’m a Johnny One Note as far as parks are concerned. And p—and partly that is true because what I found in that year of 2000, when I researched conservation and its needs, I found that the hunters and the fishermen were well organized, had a lot of money. I found that, you know, the—the people handling the water issues, like Environmental Defense and Sierra Club and the—you know, they had gotten big grants. They were in good shape. But parks had never had a voice or at least a voice that could get them from point A to point B to point C. So I—I took on that which had the least educational and advocacy position behind it, but it doesn’t mean that the others are not important. And it doesn’t mean that we didn’t work on other bills before the
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legislature, the Water Bill certainly comes to mind, the Fish Hatchery Bill, others that—that—that we—that we were a part of. And I also know that it—every bit of it is—is integrated. You know, we need the wildlife in the parks or they’re not very good parks, not very interesting parks, although great scenery sometimes, so that aspect. And also the—the A—Texas Audubon, Audubon Texas had embarked on a series of—of nature centers near major metropolitan areas. And to me, a park is not a static or a sterile thing. There can be all kinds of parks, a nature center, a butterfly center, you know, a—a—a state park, a national park, a wildlife refuge area et cetera, et cetera. They all meet my basic criteria and I told somebody the other
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day, I’m not really in the conservation business of natural habitat et cetera. I’m in the conservation people of trying to do something for people so that they’ll have a place. So, it’s—back to your question of parks near cities. Well, Audubon Texas has got two great new facilities near Dallas, the Trinity Ri—River Project and the Cedar Hill Project, marvelous, w—great funding. The Trinity Center is part of that whole Trinity River Project near Dallas. It’s going to have a great educational center, Cedar Hills, the same way. We’re exploring the possibility in Harris County with—with a state park—Shelton Lake, which has been sort of left by the wayside. It was a great educational ci—civ—center mainly for inner-city kids and then it—it would—got caught up in the lack of funding. So we’re trying to f—explore, perhaps, Audubon
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doing a birding center there as part of the process so that, again, it’s a melding of private philanthropy and—and public property which I deeply believe in. I think—I think a buy-in is good thing, so that you just don’t sign your check April 15th and say go out and do good for parks. I mean, you really put your own money in there. The Rockefeller and the Mellon philosophy of creating new parks in new areas i—i—if they had had sports bubble gum cards of the Rockefellers, then that’s what I would’ve collected in my youth. So Audubon offered some new challenges, different challenges, it’s mainly private philanthropy. Although, you know, we’ve—we get involved in some controversies like this damn fool border fence that’s going on and it’s going to totally take out Sabal pines, palms rather, down there near
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Brownsville, which is one of our properties. And yet it—a half mile down the road, there’s a big resort golf course that—that—not going to have the fence at all. So, I mean, you talking about building a s—sieve that’s going leak. So—so we’re getting involved in that as are a lot of other mayors and—and groups all up and down the Rio Grande.
DT: Is—is Audubon Texas taking a position on the—the wind power plants that have been proposed for the Kenedy Ranch?
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GB: We have. We joined with the Nature Conservancy and others and—in saying that there was not and there is not enough scientific data yet and that things ought to be put on hold until that can be—that can be proven up. We took a pretty—I had to and others on the board, we took a pretty firm stand because the private c—compliance of the wind power companies was not what we considered to be up to standards. That was all being run through Parks and Wildlife because we raised hell and they put it on hold. They’re going back. They’re going to re-look at the—at the situation. It’s a delicate balance. There’s no question, we need alternative sources of energy. And in Texas we’re blessed with a lot of wind, some people say it’s a curse, but it just depends on where you are at any time of day. On the other hand, it—it—it does, I—I’m—I’m f—fairly sure, although, you know, we don’t really have any definitive studies. But, again, common sense would just tell you that it’s going to affect flight patterns. So there’s—there’s going to have to be some tradeoff and
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I’m not sure what the outcome is—is going to be. There’s another interesting fight that has nothing in—what—well, indirectly has something to do with conservation, but Texas is a private landowner state. And they just talk about property rights and the sanctity of property rights ‘til hell freezes over. And yet here’s the Kennedy Ranch which is, you know, properly owned and—and a private property, putting in wind f—power form on their ranch to the detriment of the King Ranch and Armstrong Ranch and some of their neighbors. Well it’s just—it’s—it’s almost funny to w—to watch them down there. Suddenly it’s, well, that’s, yeah, that’s not their property right, there are other things involved in it. So there’s a little of that going on too,
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that has nothing to do with really conservation per se, except the conservation of the aesthetic of—of looking out from your ranch onto the next ranch and suddenly there’s a big wind farm there.
DT: Another Audubon thing I was curious to ask about is that there’s a pretty significant quail initiative of prairie restoration and I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about Audubon’s efforts there.
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GB: Well, we—we’re very proud of that. We’ve got s—some very good funding. We—we—we’ve got a—we have had a—a—a couple back-to-back great young people that have—have worked on it tirelessly. I—it’s, you know, I mean, you talk about f—footslogging the farm to ranch to farm to ranch job—to—to get the job done and again, working with other groups. But again, it’s—it’s a question of—o—of putting it together and making it work. Given the fact that we’ve had se—severe droughts and I think we’re going to have more and the lack of water—yep? [sound fuzzy]
DT: We’ve been learning about Mr. Bristol’s ac—activity in—in business and advocacy and fundraising and political organizing, lobbying and he has a—another side as well and that involves art. Here’s a photograph of—of fall leaves that he’s taken and—and t—talk a little bit about how he composed it and prepared it and after that, maybe we can let him talk
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GB: Alright. I like this—this photograph, one because it was a spur of the moment natural setting. The—the light was just right. The time of year was just right and I caught a lot of different colors with a little morning mist or—or rain on s—on some of the leaves. And it’s—it’s very simple. It’s not as dramatic as some of the landscape things I do, lightning storms. But I think the colors throughout—there’re all kinds of colors in this one little pile of leaves that—and yet, the light caught it just right, so some are light and some are dark. A—an—and then, as I say, and then the—the raindrops or the mist on them just gave it, to me, a—a perfect s—a perfect touch. You—when you photograph, you—one of the rules that I’ve learned is that you look all the way around it, take your time. Make sure that you’re not just fixated on one particular thing, but there may be something at the bottom, you know, just the bottom of your feet that’s more interesting, more beautiful, technically, maybe more
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challenging than what’s out in front of you. So I—I spend a lot of time before I go to Montana or France or Italy or wherever I’m going, reading about, thinking about, you know, what am I going to see. And I know when I get to Paris, I’m going to see the Eiffel Tower but I don’t know what, if I look over the side of a bridge, what I’m going to see down below. So I—I—I’ve got, you know, I got s—the big shots, the natural shots now, but I look for the little things too because they’re just as interesting and sometimes it’s just this photograph so they’re more interesting. Most good photography and most great photography is done either in the early morning or in the late afternoon, that’s the best light. There are exceptions to that rule but most of the time. So that if you—if you have a tripod and if you take your time and you
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do it right and you have a good camera, you can photograph—there’s more light than you would think thirty or forty minutes after, quote, the sun goes down. Not quite as much in the morning, but still, before the sun comes up, you can get some beautiful—the—I don’t know whether you can see this one back here, but that, clearly, i—to my eye, it looked a lot darker than it was and then I just waited and waited and waited ‘til it (snap) just was a combination of the clouds, dark clouds and—and the go—in the morning. It—photography is—is a—is a fulltime conscious thing fo—for me and even more so because just about the time I started photography late in life, I got the hang of—of—of film, everything went digital on me. So I’ve had to learn all that and Photoshop and—and lightroom technique and all
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that kind of stuff. And—but i—it’s—it’s a lot easier—I—I think we referenced Ansel Adams’ book. You know, Ansel Adams said twenty percent was composition, ten percent was determination to get there and the other was in the darkroom. Well, with digital Photoshop and lightroom and some of the other tools you have now, you know, Ansel Adams probably could’ve made about two times as—as many prints as—as he—as he did because he had to work in the darkroom for, you know, hours on end to get something just right that—that he liked. Well, with Photoshop, you know, you can just be changing that all the time ‘til you—you get it in—in—in a relatively short period of time. I also, in the main, do outdoor landscape, natural photography. Doesn’t mean I don’t do a lot of people and people events and county fairs and I’ve—
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I’ve won some awards with—with county fair photography and things like that, but I like it, it gets me out. It—it makes me go, as I said earlier, three or four different routes to get back to Texas or to go to Montana so that I’ll stop by—by—make myself go and stop by something that I think might be interesting, not only to me, but for the camera. And that’s also true, you know, I might find something to—to write a bit about. Sometimes, you know, the—the—the—the film image and the poetry, s—sort of, flow together and I’ve—I’ve published a whole book of poems that not directly spoke all the time to—to it’s accompanying photograph but there was a similarity of—of point of view or something, it did—it did very well. So…
DT: Which this might be a good segue to—to talk about some or your poetry compositions and if we cold just take break, maybe we can see how we…
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GB: Oh, let me—let me get—let—let—before you turn the thing on…
DT: We—we have Mr. Bristol’s cat book, is that right?
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GB: Chat—chat book.
DT: Of Natural Selections and it’s got a—a number of poems in here and he’s going to read a few for us and maybe tell us a little bit about what might’ve inspired him to write this particular piece.
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GB: Well, I always liked literature and writing, David, and I always used it, even as a kid, I’d write down things, not poetry but what I saw and what I—is the—then as I got into photography, I would make notes leading up to the—the photograph and—and—and sometimes I would be inspired enough where I’d just sit down and—and write—write a poem or—or at least enough notes to make it into a poem. There’s a great similarity between photography and—and poetry, they’re snapshots. They take place in a relatively small time in space. They’re not a novel wh—go to one s—snapshot, a novel’s more like a ma—making a movie. So that in 1992 I was fortunate enough to get a book of photographs and poetry published but the day it
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came out, I decided I needed to get more formal training, I just wrote. So I, at the tender age of fifty-seven, I went back to school and got a master’s d—degree in—in creative writing from Vermont College. And I’ll tell you, going back to school after thirty years, it’s—I don’t care what you’re studying, it’s—it’s no mean task, but nonetheless, it was—it was a great help. And then since then I’ve—I’ve gotten a lot poems published and I’ve won a—t—two or three contests and—and that’s always a—a—I never did it for the money. I never was going to teach or anything else like that, by the way, you—you know, there’re not very many rich poets in the world. So as Tom T. Hall, who’s a dear friend of mine, said one time, don’t q—quit your day job to write songs or poetry. He’s been a little more successful writing songs. This—this book, Natural Selections did come out about the time I really began to get involved with TCC and I’ve been putting a—a number of natural setting poems
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together. And one of them that I read about first by Edward O. Wilson, who is, I think, one of the great minds on the need for the sanctity of wildlife, wrote about the—the Ivory-bill Woodpecker. At the time this was written, it was thought that it was extinct. Now since that time, there is some evidence, not much but maybe, that in Arkansas there—way in the back woods, in the swamps, that there may be a few remaining. And this poem is called The Lord God Bird and the reason it’s called The Lord God Bird is that when people used to see it a hundred years ago, a hundred and fifty years ago, it was—it’s a mammoth bird. It’s one big Woodpecker, and some of them have six, seven foot wingspans, and people yelled, Lord God bird
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and it—that became it’s—it’s nickname.
Gone, likes its namesake, into oblivion or so much toward mystery like Father, Son or Holy Ghost, one has to believe deeply to prove absence of something that gave up the ghost, disappearing into a haven of old growth crucifixion to repair for a second coming. For it is here, suspended in disbelief of the irei—irretrievables, where disciples wander wilderness, searching for signs, to hear the kent of trumpets heralding the return on wings arched white against canopied heavens. Lord God, I need to believe you died, were buried and will rise, for if not there’ll be times barnacled by absence. When I alone in my own Gethsemane of grief may waiver as lesser deities ascend into your hallow spaces, until the ghost you’ve become will fade in disbelief.
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So, partly natural, partly a religious poem. On the other side, this is—I have a photograph of—of—of—of part of this, it’s called Among Saguaros as Lightning Gathers itself, and this was out in Tucson, Arizona looking the mountains when a—a lightning storm—a dry—a dry lightning storm hit.
A day so gun barrel hot, the panting lizard had to watch to catch its breath while the quail and dove compete for cover. Yet overhead in the thirsty hills different gunnery begins to un-holster warning shots that are magnified in boxed canyons, thundering down arroyos, ricocheting, splintering, then rising into themselves back into black where the August heat greets clouds that made themselves out of transparency. And what a moment ago was dry stone and sky, leaks with the vanguard of torrent. And parched plants look up like deserted desert beggars beseeching drink while the lightning flashed, cast the entire scene in eerie mystery, never reveling a clue, even as the lizard, snakes away into its own secret, while backlit saguaro stand like stage coach hold-up victims in a grainy black and white B western movie.
I wish I could find that—cut it off just a second; I’m going to find that.
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Mustang Island Night Call. Mustang Island is, you know, is down on the coast of Texas.
The night is a seashell of sounds floating on silver ripples of star stained tides that began with silent beams from the moon, who in her lonely outcast pride sending com—pulsating signals that settle to the core stirring some small s—spot of ooze ascending then broke surfacing, securing passage on stealth crest transporting countless messages to the sand’s smooth shells, separating pulsing into whispers that rode winds into chambers of night sounds. I must go splashing along the shore, searching for the shell that may have saved secrets for me.
So that gives you a little insight into the writings, I guess, o—of a natural poet, although I—I write a lot more
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poetry about different things than I do photography. I—I really like outdoor photography. But I think before we turned on, I—I said that I’ve always been crazy, it kept me from insane and doing photography and poetry gets me out of the normal self I’m in every day of the week. So that’s—wh—that’s what I do for fun.
DT: Well, and I think they also provide a—a kind of message to other people and to future generations that is really valuable. And I know we often during these interviews close with a question about just this sort of thing, you know, how do you boil down and what would be the boiled-down message to a coming generation about what you thinks important and what should be important and valuable to them and, of course, what we’re talking about here is really about conservation and, you know, the natural world. What is the essential part here for you?
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GB: Well, even a hundred or two hundred years ago, the need or the ability rather, to get out into nature was already beginning to change, we were becoming an urban society. And I deeply think that we are losing something by not having this connection, not only with nature, but with historic sites. W—we’re—we’re losing out connection to ourselves and it is more and more important that our children and grandchildren have places to go and they know about conservation and they know about the—the inherent beauty of—of this country and importance of—of conservation in their own lives, saving water, saving energy because while, I happen to believe that glo—global warming is a real and present danger, even if I didn’t, we’re running out of fossil fuels. They’re being produced in areas of the world that
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are totally unstable and we’ve got to learn to conserve and we can without any real economic con—consequence. San Antonio’s a perfect example. They’ve cut their water by—usage by about forty percent and San Antonio’s a booming town. On the other hand, Dallas is just using water like a drunken sailor and they’ve passed no ordinances. So I just think it’s vitally important to—to have not—not all the land, we don’t need all the land, but at least enough of it set aside where people can go and have a natural setting and a natural connecting—connection. And if we don’t do it, ultimately, ultimately it will backfire even on the private landowners because at some point in time, there could be some big vote up that—that made no sense
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whatsoever as far as private stewardship of the land and the legislators would have no experience. Again, they wouldn’t mean to harm the land. They just have other issues because they don’t ha—they’re—they’re—they’re naturally ignorant. And I think we’re really becoming a nation of naturally ignorant citizenry. And part of that—and most of that’s their own damn fault as I said about funding of state parks. I mean, we let them deteriorate and it’s now—it’s—it’s time to fix them.
DT: I—I read a—a article you wrote that talked a little bit about the importance of the outdoors and I think you—you had this term that caught my eye. It’s “the gift of place.” What—what did you mean by that?
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GB: Well, David, I—you know, it—it—it seems to me, it—it’s this connection, it’s this connective issue that people that have a sense of place and it doesn’t necessarily have to be just confined to your house here in Austin, I mean I’ve got Montana, I’ve got other places that are places that you like to go either physically or in your mind at night or whatever, that give you a—a—a sense of belonging. I think about ninety percent of the world’s problems today is that we are becoming displaced people, even though we live in cities of eight, ten, twelve, forty million people. There’s no real sense of—of—of being and there is no there there, as a writer once said. So that—and—and with a gift comes an obligation to pass it on. And I think—I think
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that’s important too. And I know from my own personal experience, I—I’m not going to, you know, I’m—I’m sixty-seven years old, I’m not going to see the—the total benefit of four or five or ten or fifteen new parks, et cetera, et cetera, nor am I going to have ownership in any of them. They belong to the people. But they’re important for my grandchildren and—and their children and the children of Texas and the children of the United States. And, you know, a—in a very short period of time, this is a shocking fact, the Houston, Texas area of the United States is going to be more densely populated than Beijing, China is today, within twenty years. And i—it takes a long time to get out of Houston to go to the natural area. So we ge—we do have to set aside, not just state parks but more Central Parks. What a magnificent idea
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that was a hundred and fifty years ago, right in the middle of what’s now Manhattan is some—with the exception of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and the re—re—re—s—roun—land surrounding it, it’s the most expensive piece of real estate in the world. And so people who say that conservation doesn’t pay off, take them to Central Park sometime, take them to, you know, Zilker Park. And the developers, I mean, some of them are damn fools and they’re not very responsible, but the reason they love Zilker Park and want to build as close as they can to it, is because it gives them great value. So it—it ha—it has a value, people don’t have to look at conservation as tree huggers et cetera, et cetera. But getting back to this sense of place, this gift of place, it—it—it really takes on a lot of things. I think the Rockefellers and the
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Mellons and many others had the right idea of turning back great portions of their wealth, gifts, if you will, of places for the American people and gift to yourself so that you can go out and be a part of it and you don’t have to own it. In fact, wh—that’s one of the great fallacies of the nay-sayers of—on parks and stuff, they say, we, you know, wh—why—why—why should we have parks. It’s a buy-in, it’s a connection again. And the parks are gifts to ourselves, w—we paid for them, we run them, we pay taxes and—but it gives us a little piece of—o—of satisfaction and—and certainly, I think, a lot of piece of mind.
DT: Good explanation. I—I’ve asked too many questions (talking at same time)
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GB: No, I’ve got plenty of time.
DT: Do you—is there something you’d like to—to volunteer at the end here, that maybe we haven’t covered?
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GB: Well, first of all, I think this is a wonderful thing you’re doing. We don’t have e—enough of—of—of the—the history o—of conservation. I—I got very concerned when I was on the National Park Foundation about the—the lack of—of continuing understanding about how our national park system evolved. It’s America’s greatest idea. Education and some other things are important ideas, but they weren’t American. They came from—all the way from Plato. Parks, as a concept, at the national and the state level, is a—clearly an American idea. And t—it needs to be championed, yes, by brute strength and lobbyists, but also a—a continuing gathering of—of the experiences so that people can learn. You know, I made a lot of mistakes
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over the last few years in putting this together because I—I just didn’t know all the possibilities that could be visited on something as—as—as big as state park funding, but was a—such a small part of the budget. But if people can learn by our experience, our common e—experience, then—then th—they’ll be better twenty years, thirty years from now. And the last thing is, and I’ve said it before, I th—I just think it’s—it’s so important to have these—these venues, these gifts of places where kids can get out. And I’ll leave you with this one fact, for the first time in the history of polling, Nintendo games outranked going outside, as far as our children are concerned. That’s pretty frightening.
DT: Got to take away the batteries. Thank you so much.
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GB: Thank you.
DT: We appreciate your time.
[End of Reel 2395]
[End of Interview with George Bristol]