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From the Pen of Robert L. Cook

I am retiring. I’ve never really given any thought to what I might say in my last “At Issue” column, so forgive me if I ramble and reminisce a bit.

I went to work for this outfit right out of college in June of 1965, and except for a wonderful 11-year stint through the 1980s with Shelton Ranches in Texas and Montana, this agency has been the center of my professional career. How do you say goodbye to an agency like the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the wonderful and dedicated employees who work here, and the incredible state parks, wildlife areas, historic sites and fish hatcheries that we operate? After all these years, I like the agency and what it stands for; it is a good outfit. How do you say goodbye to the lifelong friends scattered from one end of the great state of Texas to the other, friends that you have made over a lifetime? I have concluded that you don’t say goodbye; they’ll always be there for you, and you will always be there for them.

Working for TPWD, you really get to know people, all sorts of peoplenot just what they look like and how they act on the surface, but how they handle real crises like hurricanes, wildfires, political pressure and sometimes, life-and-death situations. You see how people act when they make the decision to kill or not to kill an animal; and you see how they treat the animal with respect or with disrespect, whichever decision they make. In this profession, you stay out in the woods alone quite often, and you learn how important it is for people to be outdoors and say nothing, and hear nothing except the buzz of an insect, the song of a bird and the sound of the wind. You learn to laugh, especially at yourself. Maybe best of all, you learn how good people really are; I think maybe the outdoors brings that out. You learn that Texans are good people. You learn that hard times bring out the best in people, and that a real crisis is when we are at our best.

I reckon that when you work in this profession for 42 years, you become a believer in a Higher Power. You believe that this is not all just an accident; it didn’t just fall out of the sky. If you were like me, and were lucky enough to have been raised on a small farm/ranch in the drought of the ’50s, you probably already were a believer.

Somebody asked me the other day, “Bob, what’s the biggest mistake that you ever made in your career?” I had to think about that one a while because I’ve made just about every mistake that could be made, and there were several of them I’d just as soon not ’fess up to right now if you don’t mind. I’ve smoked too many, eaten too much and stayed up too late … but probably my biggest mistake in retrospect, was that I enjoyed it too much. That’s right. I was out in the brush watching or chasing some critter, trying some habitat management practice that I thought might work better, or I was arguing the priority of conservation needs with folks a lot smarter than me, when I should have been home being a better husband, or a better father or a better citizen. I’ll try to do better.

I suppose that an Old Codger, excuse me, a Wise and Experienced Conservationist like me, should probably give some advice or declare some new, golden gem of wisdom as they stroll off into the sunset, but I don’t know exactly what that should be other than what I’ve been saying for all these years: Get informed, get involved, and most importantly, get outdoors and enjoy the great outdoors of Texas. You will be glad that you did.

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