Worth reading

Worth reading

Of Mice and Mountain Lions: The Adventures of a Wildlife Biologist (2004) is authored by my friend and colleague Ronnie Ridley George, currently the Deputy Director of the Wildlife Division for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It is an autobiographical work.

After a brief introduction to his early years on the family farm in northeastern Texas, the narrative leapfrogs Ron's college years at East Texas State University (B.S. degree). It also omits his service as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, including a stint in Viet Nam during fateful 1968, although that era is detailed in an earlier book, Airspeed, Altitude, and a Sense of Humor: The Adventures of a Jet Tanker Pilot (2001).

Of Mice and Mountain Lions picks up again in 1970, when civilian George was vaulted into conservation courtesy of an advertisement in Outdoor Life (not too different than the Classic comic book promise/snooker of a life as a free-spirited government hunter in the American West that lured this reviewer into the profession and a life tethered to a desk on the seventh floor of a building in the American East...but I digress).

In 1970, Ron followed his advertised dream to Stephen Austin University, but moved on when confronted with "working up" 2,000 frozen squirrel uteri as some manner of grad school audition or hazing. Next he tried to get into Texas A&M, but the self-proclaimed "friendliest school in the world" didn't waste a "Howdy" or "Welcome" on a purposeful veteran. Ronnie's road show then took him to the city Austin, to get some advice from someone in the state wildlife agency about a career in wildlife science. Here, too, he was waved off...by an Aggie alum, go figure. Lesser men might have demurred and gone into shoe sales or fisheries at that point, but Ron had inherited a degree of Texan tenacity (which normal Americans refer to as blockheadedness). On a subsequent visit to scenic Lubbock and the Texas Tech campus, he fortuitously found its Department of Range and Wildlife Management. Better yet, he found tutelage with one of the profession's foremost educators, Eric Bolen.

From that point to being glad-handed by Texas Governor George Bush at some Parks and Wildlife Department awards function in 1999, Ron's story tracks him through a series of professional assignments and with a variety of characters. It also serves up anecdotes of the family life of a wildlife biologist, including duty with the Iowa Conservation Commission near Boone, Iowa, which ended when the Georges became convinced that Boone is centered atop the polar ice cap.

That takes the reader about two-thirds the way through the 182-page book. The rest documents Ronnie's various travels with wife Barbara to Costa Rica, China, Hawaii and Australia, where some interesting touristy things were observed and done. For all but travelogue vicariates, Ron's life list of interesting touristy things lacks the gusto of his professional adventures. I wanted to read more about the trials, tribulations, insights, snafus and postscripts of his work with animals, other characters, and bureaucracies and their constituents from 1970 to 1999.

I liked best of all the several chapters wherein he wrote of his growing up on the farm along Hunt County's Timber Creek. This included the episode when young Ronnie didn't burn down Paw Paw's barn. It was a time of wosshoppers, Rover the world-class diller dog, Wuff the prairie dog, fishin' poles and Nellie Belle the opossum. And there was Tex, a big game-hunting barred owl that found it necessary to protect the homestead from newlywed Barbara.

I especially liked that Ron grew up apparently thinking that "sort of" was a ponderous term for "sorta." He still does.

I'm told that there will be another volume of Ronnie Ridley's believe-it-or-not life as a wildlifer. I certainly hope so.

Of Mice and Mountain Lions ($19.95) was published by Eakin Press (www.eakinpress.com) of Austin, Texas, as was Ron's first book ($16.95).

July 14, 2007