Kids and wildlife inspire new beginnings
Published 9:02 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Perspective changes through the lens of camera.
We live life in a constant state of motion but once the shutter snaps, a moment is captured.
It is frozen in time.
As a beautiful and very friendly whitetail doe approached my little buddy Jaxon, I snapped a photo with the deer curiously nudging him and the precious young boy smiling ear to ear.
When I looked down to examine the shot, I realized something.
My joy wasn’t just in the deer, which was beautiful.
And it was not in the act of photography, which is exciting.
It was in helping connect a young boy who just went through a very serious loss in his life with the deer.
All hurt, fears and negative emotions washed away in an encounter with God’s beautiful Creation. And somehow, I had the humbling honor of helping facilitate it.
Since October 1992 there has not been a single week that a wildlife article of mine has not ran in a local newspaper. And since 1997 my articles have ran weekly on these very pages.
This however will be my last newspaper article, at least on a regular basis.
I have always done many things in wildlife media to make a living from magazine work, television guest appearances, radio, blogging, lectures and newspaper.
And I have enjoyed them all.
But now with my life centered on bringing the redeeming love of Christ to hurting children through wildlife encounters something has to give. I only have so much energy to give, so much creative output.
So, on the 25th anniversary of my first newspaper article and 20 years of contributing to this paper I am walking away.
It is to take the energy spent here bringing you stories, interviews and photos and putting it into the work with children and wildlife.
My wife Lisa and I operate the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center in Orange. With our aforementioned mission guiding us we work with hurting children including through our “Wild Wishes” program that grants exotic animal encounters to children who have a terminal illness or who have lost a parent or a sibling.
We have granted 43 wishes.
We have also worked with hundreds of children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment. An encounter with a beautiful exotic animal can bring changes to a child that I am continually astounded to see.
I’ll never forget introducing Emily, a sweet 11-year-old from Graham, Texas, to our tortoises through our “Wild Wishes” program.
You should have seen her face when she got to pose for a picture with one. A year later she returned with a friend from Graham named Ireland who lost their father to meet a zebra named Zeta on our friend Donna MacDonald’s Double M ranch in Jasper.
The owners were not home that day but told us where the food was and that the zebras would probably be nearby.
They had crossed a creek on the property and it looked like they were not interested in us.
So, Ireland, Emily, my daughter Faith and I slowly walked down hill and chunked a few pieces of food across the creek.
After a few minutes, Zeta took notice and so did her mate Zeus and they crossed the creek toward us.
Then dropping bit by bit of food we led them half mile up a hill and spent 30 minutes feeding, petting and photographing them.
To this day it warms my heart and reminds me that to serve others, particularly children, is the greatest gift one could receive.
And when zebras are involved it’s extra awesome!
My career as a wildlife journalist is not over. The best place to keep up with me is at thewildlifejournalist.com.
My first goal as in this pursuit of wildlife journalism was to get a column in a newspaper. The format holds a special place in my heart and because of that I want to give it my best. I believe I have done that and it is because of many people it was possible.
There are too many people to thank. There is Roger Cowles, Ed Kestler, Jeree Powell, Rich Macke, Van Wade, Dawn Burleigh and going back to the beginning, Roy Dunn and Jerry Gaulding.
I would not have had a career in newspaper had it not been for Ed Holder schooling me and honoring me with his position and Capt. Skip James giving me the most incredible and in-depth advice on the outdoors business someone could ask for.
And I will never forget Gerald Burleigh running around with me in snake dens and other crazy places.
But it’s you the readers I must thank most. If you didn’t like what I wrote there is no way I would have made the 25-year mark in newspapers, so I thank you.
I appreciate you.
I will always communicate about wildlife in some format, but it’s time I leave these pages with a grateful heart.
So, I am sure I will see many of you down the road.
Perhaps it will be at one of my lectures or maybe anchored up next to me at the Sabine Jetties.
Or maybe you will get to see and be a part of what we are doing through Kingdom Zoo for hurting children.
My wife and I meet monthly with a group of kids who are in the foster system, most of them fresh from leaving their homes.
We bring out our animals and I leave every meeting telling them that I have fished in the South American jungles, caught Wels catfish in Spain, caged dive with great white sharks, hunted with Phil Robertson The Duck Commander and fished with all-time great bass champs Rick Clunn and Kevin Van Dam.
However, spending time with them is better than all of that. It is what I am called to do.
So know that me leaving this position is not because dissatisfaction or even economics.
It’s about children and an ability God has given my wife Lisa and me to help them through their trials with wildlife encounters.
It can change their lives for the better and being able to make that happen has changed ours.
I’ll see you somewhere, most likely somewhere in the wild.