“So, how do you like living in Texas?” Overwhelmingly, that is the question I’ve been asked repeatedly by both people I interact with here and back in South Carolina. Most pose the question in an uncomplicated way, often wanting to know what I like about Texas and what I might miss from South Carolina. Some follow up with another, more in-depth question about what I think is similar and/or different about the two states. Well, let’s start with at the top and work from there.
I’m in a completely different ecosystem and the challenges of learning new flora and fauna is exhilarating! I have all new birds visiting my feeders and there are several incredible parks within minutes of my new house. Species diversity is extraordinarily high, as there are between 10 and 12 distinct ecoregions in Texas depending upon which textbook you happen to reference. Compare that to the five ecoregions of South Carolina and you can begin to sense my excitement about learning the landscape. Varying from lush coastal regions to desert canyons, life has evolved very differently to succeed in such a wide range of regions.
I live in the hill country of the Edwards Plateau region and I’m very near the Llano Uplift and much of the Balcones Fault. Limestone is prominent, providing crystal clear rivers and caves in abundance. The sheer numbers of species found in Texas boggles the mind. One hundred species of snakes, 640 species of birds, more than 160 mammals -- and that’s just a portion of the fauna. That isn’t even taking the flora into consideration. The naturalist in me is very happy!
Most of this diversity, as you might expect, is due to the immense proportions which define Texas. I am still struggling to grasp the scale of things here. There are 254 counties and if you wish to drive all the way across the state, you’re looking at a 12 to 14 hour drive, regardless of whether you’re traveling east to west or north to south. Texas is well over eight times the size of the Palmetto State in square miles and has more than 5.5 times the population. As a matter of fact, there are a little fewer than 2 million people in the Austin-Round Rock area. If you throw in San Antonio, just south of here, you’ll run into another 2.27 million people.
Outside of Austin, a great deal of Texas is eerily similar to South Carolina. Aside from Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio, there is a whole lot of rural in Texas. The state is well right of conservative and most of the towns are pretty small. There is also a large contingent of “dirt road alumni” Longhorn and Aggie fans throughout the state. Just as with Gamecock and Tiger fans, the number of items of paraphernalia on a house, car or person is often inversely proportional to the likelihood they attended that university. The same holds true in Texas. That guy with all that burnt orange and white Longhorn stuff on his Texas Edition Z-71 probably couldn’t spell UT without looking down at his T-shirt first.
Austin, however, is a horse of a completely different color. Incredibly eclectic and by far the bluest city in the Lone Star State, it boasts such things as a completely solar powered radio station. The two mottos here are, “The Live Music Capitol of the World” and “Keep Austin Weird.” I was in the airport waiting to catch a plane during the recent SXSW Festival and I can attest to both of those being very true.
The girl in front of you at the coffee shop with the green hair and zodiac chart tattooed across her shoulders just might be a bank president and the guy cutting your hair at the local barbershop may speak five languages and have a law degree. There is great anonymity in a place with so many people. I have no idea who my neighbors are or which house belongs to whom. If anyone in the subdivision knows me at all, they probably just know the house in the cul-de-sac with the two Great Danes who look out from the second-story balcony in the evenings. But, the people are from all over the country and the world and I see colors and lifestyles of all make and model around me. The anthropologist in me is very happy!
(Josh Arrants has worked with birds throughout South Carolina for more than 12 years, specializing in the management of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, as well as songbirds and birds of prey. A graduate of the University of South Carolina, he has lectured on birds all the way from Texas to California, from Florida to Maine.)