one of the prettiest places in texas

One of the Prettiest Places in Texas

When I first started exploring the forests north of Houston 40 years ago, I thought they were among the prettiest places in Texas.

The towering pines had a quiet beauty. They wrapped you in a blanket of solitude. Surrounded you with silence. Calmed the soul. Enabled a retreat from workday worries into a world of wonder.

Here, you could reconnect with the roots of life. Relax. Restore. Renew. Right outside your back door. I just had to live here! But a million other people had the same dream.

16 Lanes Later

The dream became so successful that we paved 16 lanes to it.

Looking North at I-69 and Kingwood from over the West Fork San Jacinto

The same thing happened along I-45. As one development after another sprang up, we found ourselves destroying what attracted us here.

The Pursuit of Loneliness

As I reflected on this, it reminded me of a book I read in 1970, The Pursuit of Loneliness by Phillip Slater. For thousands of years, Slater said, to be civilized meant to be citified. We love all the benefits of living in a city (such as jobs, shopping, medical care, and events), but we dream of a place in the country that lets us escape. So we buy some acreage, use up hours each day commuting. And wake up years later only to find that millions of us have collectively destroyed the very lifestyle we fought so hard to attain.

Changes We Ordinarily Can’t See

To see the changes we caused, you need to rise above the tree tops. Only from there can you comprehend how we have put our forests and rivers under a carving knife.

Here’s what I found from four hundred feet up as I flew last month from I-45 to I-69 down the San Jacinto West Fork in a helicopter – 20 square miles of sand mines in a 20 mile reach of the river – carved out of one of the prettiest places in Texas. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only such stretch of river like this in the region.

All that opaque blue water isn’t what you’d find on a Caribbean island. It’s likely loaded with chlorides or cyanobacteria.

Dreams Built on Sand

Ironically, it takes sand to make concrete. And it takes concrete to build 16 lanes to your dream home. It might be worth it when you live at the end of the road and they take the sand from someplace else. You can still enjoy the dream.

But when the 16 lanes go 20 miles beyond you, when someone tears up YOUR forest to get the sand, and destroys the beauty you built your dream around, it makes you wonder whether there is a better way.

Can we find the sand somewhere else? Can we define rules for mining that preserve our collective dream, perhaps by repurposing the mines after we have exhausted them? Can we give developers an incentive to preserve trees instead of clearcutting them? Hope springs eternal, as the poets say. Another legislative session starts in January. Stranger things have happened.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/10/22

1807 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.