If we love our home planet, we should be like a careening billiard ball, touching and moving people to stand up for Mother Earth. Internationally known Chattanooga naturalist Robert Sparks Walker did that for me.
What I have to say about him is quite personal but if you have never heard of him, let me tell you some startling facts. He wrote a nature column for the Sunday Chattanooga Times for 25 years, produced a 15 minute radio program answering over 20,000 questions from listeners and readers, labeled 3,500 trees in area school yards so children could study and learn to love trees, helped organize the Chattanooga Audubon Society and edited their quarterly magazine, Flowers and Feather. His book, Torchlight To The Cherokees was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
He must be turning in his grave today to see the alarming planet-warming trend and the failure of our government to participate in a world scientific gathering to get all planetary governments spurred to action. He would have no part in the current insane attitude of thumbing our political nose at the science of ecology.
So how did he influence me? As far back as I can remember my mother was talking about Robert Sparks Walker. He was eminently approachable and mother would often call him to discuss a question about birds or some other aspect of nature.
This was such a common occurrence that I grew up knowing his name better than the name of any United States senator. She spoke of him with respect bordering on reverence.
Born in 1878 in Cherokee-built Spring Frog Cabin, which still stands at Audubon Acres in East Brainerd just a few feet from his grave, he poured his intense love for nature into 82 years of life in this community. His massive contributions have never been surpassed.
I was thinking of Walker when I wrote a song titled Cherokee Tears:
They lived here
Maybe for a million years
In mountain streams
Itís their laughter that you hear
And in the night
When the wind is in the trees
Itís their cry, |Cherokee Tears
When we came
We drove them from this land
That they love more
Then we can ever understand
For they love land
For Itself and love alone
So I cry Cherokee Tears
And there must be
A lot of Cherokee in me
For when I see
My mountains choking
Behind a gray haze dark as death
Itís got to be the devilís breath
So I cry Cherokee tears
My motherís devotion to birds and all earth critters came originally from her Cherokee grandfather but Robert Sparks Walker stoked it. Love for nature is always commendable but unskillful love does not accomplish much. Walker shaped Chattanoogaís love for all things natural into an instrument of change. It gave us Audubon Acres and Maclellan Island. It was no doubt a spiritual impulsion for our growing system of greenways and walkways.
He was a director of Sunshine Magazine Ė one of the most popular and influential publications America has ever seen. Someone once remarked to me that National Geographic acquainted Americans with the world and Sunshine Magazine sweetened up our national soul.
Is it any wonder I am a bird lover, organic gardener, and with Mayor Pat Rose took the original action to establish the Moccasin Bend Task Force, which led to the development of our waterfront, the Aquarium and the Tennessee Riverpark? Like thousands of Chattanoogans who have joined Audubon, walked the swinging bridge at Audubon Acres, and love that precious jewel of property like a piece of their own skin, I got hit in the heart at an early age by a Robert Sparks Walker billiard ball.
May the ball keep bouncing and forge the spirit of this community into a fist to fight for the ecological integrity and beauty of this place we call home.
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