Sunday, July 26, 2009

Something I’ve Pondered

Why do some trees exhibit thin exfoliating bark while most trees have durable, rigid, fissured bark?

Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis).

For me it was a discovery, my first ever look at this beautiful red bark tree. The bark so smooth to touch, the leaves a deep green. I learned that it’s evergreen, it flowers and it fruits and sheds it bark twice a year. In 1972 the TOES, the Texas Organization for Endangered Species, designated it as rare and endangered. I became very interested in the “Naked Indian” as the Texas Madrone is frequently called. I’m told that Blanco County has the largest number of these trees in the Texas Hill Country.

Photograph taken by J. David.

From an apparently dead trunk or limb, life had continued by growing around the dead limb like a snake and shooting off the dead trunk to form a new alive limb or branch. I noticed that the strength wasn’t there and later on I found these mortally wounded and broken by the wind.

Photograph taken by J. David.

As the restoration of the ranch progressed, we found many Madrones growing within cedar thickets. Some were big up to 20 feet; others small, growing in close to the cedar trunk which protected it from browsing deer or goats. Some believe there is a symbiotic relationship between Cedars and Madrones. I believe it’s only the protection the cedar provided. The dead cedar limb is coveted as a stave for fence building because it’s all heart and very strong. It’s much better than the metal stave sold today which bends when pushed on by cattle and deer and disfigures a perfectly good fence. But back to my experience with the Madrone:

We were so very busy and preoccupied in those early days with the restoration work that other than asking Leroy to tag and avoid any Madrones, they didn’t get my attention. Then one day in May when I was assessing our restoration progress, I was shocked to see something terribly wrong with a big old Madrone. My heart nearly stopped! The foliage looked skimpy, the tree somewhat bare. Had we injured her with the dozer? The ground was littered with sickly looking green and brown leaves. However upon examination my anxiety was relieved. The leaves had been pushed off, shed by nature and many small new leaves were beginning to grow and on the end of some twigs little green berries with red cheeks were forming.

Photographs taken by J. David.

It was the end of June that I made my next visit to the Madrone. This is when I first witnessed the tree shedding its bark ~ the scientists call it exfoliating. It was such a surprise, a dramatic change more like a chameleon or snake than a tree. I’d never witnessed this before! From the trunk base to the tips of each limb and branch, it was shedding its beautiful red bark. Large chunks of bark that looked more like parchment hung from the bigger limbs. The ground was littered with it. It was peeling and curling back from the limbs to reveal a new coat. Now, this thin bark was a white, light brown where it was most exposed to the sun and a kind of pale green under the flap of the peeling bark. . . .

There are many more notations in my journal about the Texas Madrone, but I’ve been told my blog is too long and people won’t take time to read it. “A word to the wise is sufficient,” the philosopher said. So back to the question – Why does the bark peel on the Texas Madrone? I didn’t get an answer from the many books in our ranch library so I began asking people who should know, Ph. D.’s, botanists, horticulturists and forest management people. It was interesting, their responses. Oh, how I’d like to list their names and professional qualifications, you’d be surprised and they’d be embarrassed!

“You raise an interesting question. I do not have an answer. I would venture that the trees that exhibit thin exfoliating bark have been able to survive and reproduce apparently without the need of the normal dense protective bark that most trees produce. It may be possible that thin bark even enhances the chances for survival of these species in some manner. Perhaps their sap or inner bark is disagreeable to most insects and animals. It is rare to see a thin bark tree showing evidence of being attacked.

It would at first observation seem to put them at a disadvantage as to gnawing animals, exposure to fire and general physical and thermal protection. It is an interesting question that I can not answer.” - from a Texas A&M graduate with an urban forestry degree and twenty–five years field experience “Good question. I honestly don’t know the physiology of that. Normally bark is just shed periodically as the cambium layer under the bark grows, expanding outwards and then some trees just get really gnarled, thick, compact fissured bark that never really shed or peel, while others exfoliate regularly. Why some trees would do this twice in the season must have something to do with their annual growth cycle for the cambium layer, but again, I am not sure of the exact physiology or environmental response reason behind this.” – from a Professor of Natural History

“Thin bark trees do not grow in cold climates. They didn’t need the protective bark probably where fire didn’t go. How they got away with it, not being chewed upon, I don’t know.” – from a Forest Service Biologist

Exfoliation – as the stem grows the bark tightens and stretches back until it splits, kind of like a snake skin. On other trees the bark is vertical.” – from a High Level Forest Service Biologist

“I’ve never been asked that question. I have no idea.” – from a Horticulturist

“This tree has thin bark that cannot expand to accommodate new growth. The peeling bark is a result.” – from a Park Naturalist

Well, there you have it from the experts; but you don’t have it, as there is no consensus and no research on the subject. As for me, I just appreciate the Madrone as I do all of nature’s treasures. I know there are 47 Texas Madrones, in different stages of their life around Madrone Lake. I think I’ll count all the others this fall when it’s a bit cooler.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Conservation of Another Sort: Hes’ Country Store

If you have been on a tour here or read Water From Stone, you know about HES’ COUNTRY STORE. Originally built in 1980 to house “stuff” I inherited from my mother and since the ranch needed income. I thought this “stuff” would create an atmosphere that would spark interest in families who would rent it for a few days.

Photograph taken by J. David.

My mother’s name was HESTER, but everyone called her HES. Financially, she had just enough to get along on but spirit wise she was rich! She taught my two older brothers and me how to do without things, how to make work interesting and fun. She was a total naturalist eating nothing that was manufactured. We picked a lot of wild berries in those summers and sometimes sneaked into a neighbor’s orchard and got a few apples. We learned which mushrooms wouldn’t kill us, what nuts were good and we dug a lot of sassafras roots that we bundled with string and sold to passerbys. They make a wonderful tea.

Along the railroad tracks we discovered wild strawberries growing and picked quart after quart. But that backfired on us as the soot from those coal fired trains rendered the strawberries inedible when the grit from the coal ground on a customer’s false teeth! We fed those strawberries to our chickens. I remember our visions of riches with all those strawberries. Also, along the railroad tracks we discovered all kinds of iron that had broken and fallen off the trains. These were Depression Years, the mid 1930’s. You did what you could to make a dime. The train tracks were a good mile from our shack but many a wheel barrow load of this fallen iron was slowly brought home where we waited for weeks for Butch, a junk buyer, to come by as he always did. If you think three boys were thinking of riches from strawberries it was delusions of grandeur with this pile of iron. Butch eventually came by as he knew the Bamberger Boys would have something for him. Well, when Butch saw our stack of iron he informed us that he couldn’t buy it because it was a criminal offense to pick up these obvious pieces of a train! We had to carry it all back to the tracks!

I’ve been asked in my adult life if I ever did anything that wasn’t successful – I should have remembered this. . . . . But you know now as I reflect on life, the strawberries and scrap iron capers were successful after all. It taught us how to accept adversity, these things kept us busy, kept us dreaming and allowed us three brothers to work together. In spite of our poverty it was a good life ~ Tootsie Rolls were big and only a penny back then!

Country Store Backyard. Photograph taken by J. David.

The building architecturally is copied from an old, old store building at Welfare, Texas, a community northwest of San Antonio. I had been gathering old boards and materials for years. I had some help scouting out old barns, chicken coops and sheds. We tore down 14 buildings and cleaned things up for people just to get the material. Some I bought, but most were given to me. This was possible then, but not now as old barn wood has become a popular item by decorators and architects. Most of the exterior is long leaf pine. It’s coveted, rare and hard to find. Most of these boards are 100 years old.

Stove & Counter. Photograph taken by J. David.

I’ve never inherited any money. Here you see the material part of my inheritance. 95% of everything inside the store came from “GRANNY HES’ ” (as my three children called her) home. She lived a very simple life with no radio or television and was on a 7 party phone line, but did get a weekly newspaper and a lot of visitors who sought her wisdom on various issues, particularly healthy foods.

Interior. Photograph taken by J. David.

HES’ COUNTRY STORE is a sacred place to me. I sometimes go there to meditate and surrounded by things from my youth I quite often feel her presence. I also have melancholy and regrets. My dad was killed in an industrial accident in a war plant. I was thirteen, my brothers were in the Service. I didn’t fill in the void for HES, I just didn’t understand. Within a year my older brother was shot down over the English Channel and never returned home. I live with my regrets.

So, how did I come to title this blog as “CONSERVATION OF ANOTHER SORT?” Actually, my own philosophy was developing ever since the passage of ESA – Endangered Species Act in 1973 – But shortly after the COUNTRY “STORE” was opened and visitors were taken in, I learned that adults appreciated the experience of seeing many things they once knew and the environment in the “STORE.” Sometimes, they wouldn’t leave. Then the really wonderful thing emerged. Kids were so curious about all this collection of kitchen tools, work tools and just stuff. I developed stories around various items and somewhat like the adults the kids didn’t want to leave. . . . . . . The idea of renting the store to make money went south. - - - - - The store became an unusual classroom in which the kids were asked and challenged to conserve their family history, their culture by visiting, calling upon or writing their grandparents and keeping a journal. The best letter of my entire life came from a man who said, “Dear Mr. Bamberger, My granddaughter never gave a hoot about me until she came back from your place. I now thank you, sir, she comes once a week with a clipboard and pencil asking me all kinds of questions.”

Bedroom – Slightly more modern. Photograph taken by J. David.

Yes, we gave up on making money from the store, but to me as well as everyone here at Selah we gained so much more. . . . Everything begins with philosophy.

Building a Forest. Photograph taken by J. David.

Across the road from the STORE – I’m planting a forest. I may be the only one to call it that. GRANNY HES taught me about trees. I love trees! We planted many together particularly apple trees. My goal is to have at least one sample of every tree species that grows in Blanco County in the forest. I have a good start with 47, but still have a long way to go and, of course, the trees also need time to grow. I am so delighted today to see so many 30 and 40 foot trees I planted 35 years ago.

HES’ Picture and Poem. Photograph taken by J. David.

I’d like to share with you not only GRANNY HES’ picture, but also a poem written by Donna Bamberger, the mother of my three children. We were married for forty-five years. The poem captures HESTER CAPITOLA KEGERREIS BAMBERGER, my mother, perfectly.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Gabion – n. (ga’-bi-on)- a cylinder of wicker filled with earth or stones, formerly used in building fortifications. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.

Every ranch in Texas, every ranchette, every lot in the Hill Country each has a lot of uwanted stones and rocks and, sometimes, old fences or leftover fencing materials that can be used for your ranch name, house number, directions, and even corner fence posts! They could enclose your mailbox and thus protect it from the unwanted bashing that seems to coincide with high school graduation. They are literally indestructible and maintenance free. I find that they compliment the environment here on the ranch and in a small way speak to our motto, “Nature, Pure and Simple” . . .

There is inspiration, learning and, for me, motivation that comes from the works, research and writings of scientists, biologists, philosophers and educators. Here on the ranch, I used the Gabions to honor these people as well as to identify places and give direction.

Louis Bromfield Trail. Photograph taken by J. David.

I never met Louis Bromfield although I’ve been to his farm in Ohio many times. It’s now a state park called Malabar Farm. The name comes from the Malabar Coast in India, where Bromfield a Pulitzer prize winning novelist, spent time writing his book, The Rains Came. This book was later produced as an Academy Award winning movie. Bromfield influenced my life a lot with his book Pleasant Valley which was given to me by my mother. She had many conversations with him and as much as a single mom could do on her thirty acres, followed his practices. I believe Bromfield was the first landowner in America to do habitat restoration on abused and “farmed out land.”

Rachel Carson Trail. Photograph taken by J. David.

With her book, Silent Spring published in 1962, Rachel Carson awakened America to the dangers of DDT and many other chemicals to wildlife and to humans. You might say that she started the environmental movement. As a biologist she became so concerned with the use of chemicals that she spent over four years gathering data from all over America and other parts of the world on the effects of pesticides then in use. One entire chapter in Silent Spring is devoted to the possible connection between the widespread use of chemicals and the incidence of cancer in man. Once again, it was my mother who gave me this book.

Earl Carls Starwatching Area. Photograph taken by J. David.

We met Earl Carls when as a volunteer he came to the ranch as a member of the Austin Astronomy Club. He taught our young people about the stars, planets and sky. Earl built his own telescope, a magnificent instrument that he pulled into the ranch on a small trailer. Earl was very knowledgeable about what’s in the sky and so very enthusiastic which made him a good teacher. He never let us down when asked to come here. Sadly, Earl succumbed to a heart attack in 2005. We used this Gabion to designate where astronomers should set up their telescopes and to honor Earl Carls, an outstanding volunteer.

Nature Trail & Arboretum. Photograph taken by J. David.

We have this Gabion at both ends of the Nature Trail which winds around Madrone Lake and crosses the creek four times. Most of the trail is in bottom land among tall Cherry, Spanish Oak, Bald Cypress, Elm and Cedar trees. There is one outdoor classroom and two rest areas. To some, using the term arboretum to describe these twenty-six acres is taking a bit of license. It’s definitely not traditional like Kew Gardens in London or San Antonio Botanical Gardens. There are no raised beds or neat little paved walkways nor anyplace to buy a latte, lemonade or t-shirts nor is there a restroom for that matter! For twenty years now, I’ve been moving in trees, flowers and other plants attempting to get together in our natural arboretum growing samples of every plant native to Blanco County. . . . A very big task that I probably will not be able to finish in my lifetime, but nevertheless you’ve got to dream, and have a goal.

Jane Goodall Trail. Photograph taken by J. David.

Jane Goodall began her landmark study of chimpanzees in Tanzania in June 1960, under the mentorship of anthropologist and paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey. Her work at the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve became the foundation of future primatological research and redefined the relationship between humans and animals.

One of Dr. Goodall’s most significant discoveries came in her first year at Gombe, when she saw chimpanzees stripping leaves off stems to make the stems useful for fishing termites out of nearby mounds. This and subsequent observations of Gombe chimpanzees making and using tools would force science to rethink the definition of what separates humans from other animals: “man the toolmaker.”

Jane visited here at the ranch for two days in September of 2003. We hosted the Explorers Club meeting to which she spoke of her experiences and research with chimpanzees. She and Margaret bonded and became lasting friends. When our book, Water From Stone, was published in 2007, Ms. Goodall wrote the following:

“David and Margaret Bamberger share my concern for the future of life on this planet; their deep connection with and reverence for the natural world is captured in this thought-provoking and richly-written book. In Water From Stone, the Bambergers encourage us to respect all life on Earth and to do everything we can to save it.”

Aldo Leopold Trail. Photograph taken by J. David.

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), one of America’s pioneering conservationists, worked for the U.S. Forest Service, where he helped create the nation’s first designated wilderness area, and later became a professor at the University of Wisconsin. He wrote many articles, essays, and books in his lifetime, but his last and greatest work was A Sand County Almanac, which was first published in 1949, the year after his death, and has remained continuously in print.

We had named this trail years ago never even thinking that we would win the Aldo Leopold Award from the Sand County Foundation as we did this year. It has been said that Leopold’s writings are the most influential works ever written about humans and the environment. You should have a copy of A Sand County Almanac in your home.

Grasses of Selah. Photograph taken by J. David.

After holding grass workshops out on the ranch for many years, Dr. Lew Hunnicutt established this grass trail in 2001. Originally, it had 72 species of grasses sectioned off by stone beds for study and easy identification. When this current drought started, we could not spare the water to maintain that many species. We were forced to choose the 17 most common grasses to nurture. You can’t see it in this picture, but there is a box at the trailhead with a trail map listing each species. When you enroll in our grass workshop, your final exam will be to identify the 17 species on the trail. Not to worry, you’ll learn them all during the workshop!

Lindheimer Trail. Photograph taken by J. David.

Ferdinand Lindheimer (1801-1879) was born in Germany, but moved to America in 1827 into a German community in Illinois. He later moved to New Orleans then to Mexico, but after Santa Ana’s defeat he came to Texas - New Braunfels to be exact – that was in 1852.

As a botanist he collected so many plants that his name was affixed to at least twenty Texas plants. The most prominent here on the ranch is Lindheimer Muly, a warm season perennial bunchgrass. Cattle don’t care for it, but birds eat the mature seeds. I recommend it for landscaping urban homes as it has real beauty. It grows tall, the seed leaves sometimes reaching six feet with an attractive blue-green color.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Bamberger's Folly"

This may be an old story to those more familiar with all we have to show here on the ranch. ~ Forgive me please if this is the case.

I served nine years on the Board of BCI – that’s Bat Conservation International – headquartered in Austin, Texas. My biggest contribution to that wonderful organization was working with the extended family some whom owned Bracken Cave and all of whom owned all the land surrounding it. After the purchase was completed, I was appointed to the chairmanship of Bracken Cave and as such recruited volunteers to make the sight more visitor friendly by building trails, “remodeling” old buildings, developing interpretive signs and primitive seating. When Margaret came into my life, we conceived the idea of “members only” night and handled all the communications and logistics which were necessary to bring BCI members to see the spectacular one hour emergence of an estimated twenty million Mexican Free-tailed bats (Chiroptera molossidae Tadarida brasiliensis). My son, David, and I along with our volunteers from the Bexar Grotto handled everything for three years. It was during this time that I came up with the idea of building a cave! Sounds kinda oddball doesn’t it? The Bexar Grotto – a group of cavers, had searched the ranch (Selah) very thoroughly in the hope that we had an accessible cave. We had a number of indications of underground caverns, but they were unable to open any of them.

What I wanted to demonstrate was that manmade habitat could mitigate the damage that man was causing to the environment with our highways, high wire lines, shopping centers and subdivisions.

From the very beginning in 1997 the building of a cave made me look like a crackpot. There’s a lot more to this story than time or space allows on this posting, but I’ll go on and briefly get to the good stuff. We consulted with many well respected bat biologists to get help in designing our cave. We took all of their advice and surprisingly all were really intrigued over the project and thought it would attract bats. Upon looking at our home drawn plans, the scientists estimated our cave could host one million bats!

Bats, in science, are in an order called Chiroptera – it basically means “hand winged.” Margaret and my son, David, came up with the name “Chiroptorium” a contraction of chiroptera and auditorium. David even submitted it to our three leading dictionaries – that’s another story – but I believe you’ll soon see it as an accepted word.

Since there wasn’t a war on in 1997 and 1998 when we were building our cave and the economy was not faltering and unemployment was not a problem, the media folks were hungry for something to report on. Some found us and that lead to another and another and another from local television, newspapers across the country, magazines – local and national, to The New York Times, National Public Radio then to Europe. Delegations came from Japan to see it as well as from a few cities in Texas. The only thing that didn’t come were bats! Well, a few did but they didn’t stay – and that’s another story, too.

As you would expect a good reporter to do, after a few years they check back to see how this grand experiment was performing. Getting fatigued on my evasive answer to the question, “How many bats do you have?” which was “I can’t really tell you, but they cost me one thousand dollars each,” one reported and others followed calling what is now our very successful chiroptorium “Bamberger’s Folly.”

Chiroptorium on June 30, 2009. Photograph taken by J. David.

The population began building in the later summer of 2003. It was almost like they found the chiroptorium overnight. Biologists told me they could have been a migrating group and not to expect them back. The number was estimated at 20,000.

Scientist and Wanna-be Scientists. Left to right: Lauren Snyder, Boston University, Biology major; Kristen Lear, Ohio Weslyan, Zoology major; Dr. Gary McCracken, bat biologist and head of the Department of Biology, University of Tennessee and also scientific advisor to the Bamberger Ranch Preserve; Elizabeth Braun de Torrez, Ph.D. candidate Boston University; Dan Katz, Bard College undergrad, starting Ph. D. at University of Michigan Forest Ecology and Cory, David’s dog. Photograph taken by J. David.

In 2004 scientists began developing a system that could count bats as they emerged from caves. Their work centered here at Selah. What developed was an infrared computerized camera system that took the pictures and a logarithm system that worked in conjunction that would count all those white dots that the infrared saw. This was quite an accomplishment. The project was under the direction of Dr. Tom Kunz of Boston University with a grant from The National Science Foundation. Ph.D. candidates and undergrads are here on the first of every month, April through October, conducting our census.

Learning about the Research. Photograph taken by J. David.

Elizabeth Braun de Torrez, left, is the lead person on the census this year. She is a Ph. D. candidate at Boston University. Some of the equipment can be seen on left corner of the photo. Here she is explaining her work with Colleen Gardner, our Executive Director. Notice her journal in her hand.

Kristen Lear and Lauren Snyder undergrads who are along to learn and to assist Liz Braun de Torrez. Photograph taken by J. David.

Here you can see $75,000 worth of equipment. The infrared camera is left foreground. What a wonderful opportunity and experience for the young people to spend their summer.

Still Attracting Publicity. Photograph taken by J. David.

National Public Radio KUT 90.5 in Austin sent journalist Erica Aguilar to observe and report on the research. Here she is taping Liz for the program which will air on two days the week of July 5th.

Awesome! I never get tired of this! Photograph taken by J. David.

The May 30th census recorded 54,000+. Liz reported that from her observation there were 3,000 of another species named Cave Myotis . These are easily identified in flight as they have shorter wings and fly low under trees. I have even had them brush my shoulder as they flew by.


It’s to be our First Annual Bat-a-Thon. Check our website July 15th. Win our Chiroptorium tee shirt and someone will win the privilege of bringing 10 of your friends to Selah for an emergence. I’ll personally host you and tell all the stories I skipped over at the beginning of this posting. Check the ranch's website starting July 15.