Ladybird

The passing of Claudia Taylor Johnson marks an end and a beginning. I was driving around my part of the Hill Country Saturday, thinking a few nice things about Ladybird while noticing flags lowered at half mast wherever I drove. The only place I didn't see a flag lowered was at the butt-ugly Summit development near the beautiful old community of Fischer. The development is a very obnoxious sign how the Hill Country is being desecrated. The main road is Let's Roll Drive and all the other roads in the planned, gated development-to-be have "patriotic" themes such as Liberty Bell Road and Freedom Drive. Yet the assholes who are creating the development out of pristine ranchland can't see fit to honor Ladybird.

I remember Austin's Town Lake just after Ladybird announced her initiative to beautify the area around the lake, which is the dammed up part of the Colorado River that runs through downtown. It used to be the kind of place you didn't want to go. Now it's a showcase hike-and-bike trail used by thousands every day - even the current President of the United States used the trail to jog back when he was Governor, a job he was much better suited for.

The wildflowers along Texas highways were a Ladybird-inspired project as is the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center south of Austin. She picked a good time to depart this world because even in mid July when most of the countryside is usually burned-up from the summer heat still has a springtime green to it thanks to the abundant rains we've had this summer. The creeks and the rivers are clear and flowing and there are winecups, Mexican hats, yellow composites, white daisies and all kinds of flowers still blooming. Were the Hill Country to be like this forever. Unfortunately, Ladybird's efforts to rid highway landscapes of billboards proved to be not so successful, and even the highways around Johnson City including Highways 290 and 281 are becoming blighted with monster signs, many of them advertising developments like the Summit eyesore near Fischer. It makes me wonder what kind of people are moving into my part of the Hill Country and what their values are, especially regarding land use and preserving the wide open spaces. But for this moment, Ladybird's good works give me comfort. In many ways, her ideas jumpstarted the environmental movement.

Her passing also makes me think of her hometown Karnack on the edge of Caddo Lake in northeast Texas, one of the prettiest spots in Texas with its tall cypress trees and mysterious sloughs and creeks. Growing up there gave her a sense of how powerful the natural world can be. I'm glad I've seen it because it makes understand her worldview all the better. If only there were more Ladybirds out there now to help preserve Texas' beauty.

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