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From the Pen of Carter Smith

For late August, Somervell County sure had its Sunday clothes on. The hills were as green as I could recall seeing them for that time of year. Grass was aplenty in the pastures and fields. Little creeks were flowing everywhere, and the Paluxy was moving along at a nice clip over the fluted limestone beds. So, too, was the Brazos beneath the big bridge outside of Glen Rose. The late summer rains had obviously done that country a world of good. 

While the conditions of the countryside were most uplifting, the occasion of our visit was not. We had come to say goodbye and help lay to rest a dear friend, Ed Shipman, who had passed away. Forty some-odd years ago, he had carved out an old Somervell County hardscrabble farm into an extraordinary school and children’s home between Glen Rose and Granbury known as Happy Hill Farm. Mr. Shipman was as wise a man as one could ever hope to come across. I guess he somehow knew that the old farm would be much more productive educating students and growing future leaders than it was producing crops and livestock.

Nevertheless, I kept thinking that Mr. Shipman would have loved seeing all that green. His wheels would have been turning, planning for another cutting on the hay fields down in the bottoms, cherishing all the extra grass for the school’s sizable herd of livestock and show animals, and thinking about what it would mean for his beloved birds when they migrated back through in the fall. 

As my wife and I drove through the county, I thought of another notable Texan who would have shared in Mr. Shipman’s utter delight with the August surroundings. Just like Shipman, he, too, knew more than a little about carving out and working a piece of Somervell County hardscrabble. In fact, he wrote a book about it.

That man was fabled writer and conservationist John Graves.

As well as anyone, Mr. Graves captured in his writings a transitional time in 20th century Texas — the last of the big, untamed rivers; the relative emptying of the small towns and small farms; and the deepening chasm between most Texans and any connection at all to the land that their forefathers farmed, ranched, worked, hunted and roamed. In short, rural Texas was changing dramatically in his neck of the woods, and he was there to chronicle it for all to read.

A native son who cared deeply about his home ground, Mr. Graves possessed a land ethic that ran deep inside of him. Hard Scrabble was the name of his Somervell County farm that he and his beloved wife, Jane, called home. An astute observer of all things around him, he was deeply attuned to the land and the natural rhythms of the seasons, the mercurial nature of Mother Nature, the ways of his rural neighbors, the daily toils of country living and the habits of the animals that also called Hard Scrabble home. He clearly respected and was at home with the men who made a living from it, those who knew how to shear goats and witch water, chop cedar and string wire, pull calves and plow fields.

He was also very clearly, if not so overtly, a champion of the wild things and wild places that make our state so special. His various writings and eloquent musings on subjects like big rivers and little stock farms left little doubt about his sometimes dim and wistful views about much of the change going on about him.   

As you will read about in this issue, in recognition of his land and conservation ethic, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation has established the John Graves Legacy Society in his honor. The Legacy Society is a means to recognize those who share in Mr. Graves’ unbridled love of his home ground and wish to leave behind a planned gift to the foundation for the future conservation of our state’s natural heritage. I have no doubt such a thoughtful gift and gesture would make Mr. Graves both pleased and proud.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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