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.


Charles said...

J. David,
Thank you for another interesting and informative educational session. I look forward to your updates each week. You are carrying on and expanding the work and mission of each of the persons you recognized with these Gabions!

Sallie said...

J. David,
You continue to educate me and all who follow your postings. Keep up the good work.

Select Materials said...

Is there anyone out there who is interested in gabion stone/ walls? guess this passion of mine is unique.
Maybe i should start my own blog on this subject
i am trying to find companies that have a variety gabion stone supplies
to get some wider srpead oppinions on this matter,
hope this site gets more pictures and viewers its a great site.
I am looking for different densitiy's of stone 100 - 200mm 153kn, there are very few stone supplies in my area Surrey,
so would be very interested to hear from anyone who is