New Rose From Lima
a place in East Texas where time stops.
Off the shores of Uncertain, where the Big Cypress Bayou flows into
Caddo Lake and the water is lined by moss-draped bald cypress trees,
modernity has no place.
The lake's surface is dotted with lily pads and coated with
duckweed. All around, brilliant water hyacinth blossoms.
Along the shoreline a dense forest of hickory, ash, oak, pine and
sweet gum trees grows.
Within the water and surrounding woods a menagerie
of wildlife — including some endangered and threatened species — flourishes.
Alligators and panthers add to the wild, remote ambience.
Yet, modernity seeks to invade this timeless area.
pristine wilderness of Texas' only natural lake is threatened
by an array of utterly modern-day problems — exploitation
pollution chief among them.
"Every living system on this planet is in a state of decline, and
that's not just my opinion but scientific fact," says
international rock star and environmentalist Don Henley.
That's why in 1992 the Eagles' drummer and East Texas
native created an organization — the Caddo Lake Institute — to
study, protect and improve the lake he grew up loving as a child.
Over the years, institute director Dwight Shellman has aided Henley
in warding off many "ill-conceived schemes to exploit the
Their involvement started more than a decade ago with opposition
to the Daingerfield Reach — a plan to build an inland waterway
connecting Shreveport, La., to Daingerfield, Texas — and
continues today with a battle against the city of Marshall.
The city's leadership wants to use the lake as an economic
boon, pumping and selling its water to industry. And although two
years ago the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission approved
a permit for the industry pumping, a trial court overturned the
permit when the city was sued by a loosely combined coalition of
lakeside locals and the Caddo Lake Institute.
In October, the state appellate court upheld the trial court's
decision. The case is now in federal court.
lake is always under threat from exploitation of some kind," Henley
says. "Our whole economy is based on exploiting natural
resources, but we're not doing it wisely."
Fighting off threats to the lake is not all Henley and the institute
They have trained hundreds of students, teachers and locals in
wetland management science, collected significant scientific data
about the health of the lake, and secured an international designation
of importance for Caddo by having it included as the 13th site
in the United States on the Ramsar Convention's list of significant
wetlands. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty
that provides a framework for national action and international
cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their
Doing that work is where the pleasure of victory is found.
"I have a lot more victories as a musician — I win every night — but
the satisfaction in this is in the doing," Henley says. "It's
getting to come down here and be on the lake, bringing the kids
here, fishing and learning, and building community."
idea of rugged individualism and personal freedom has
eclipsed and subverted the idea of community, and
we have spat upon something called the doctrine of the
commons. Nature doesn't recognize fences or national borders,
and as everybody from Thoreau to Muir told us, everything in
the universe is connected — what one person does upstream
has consequences for a lot of people downstream."
and raised in Linden, a town of about 2,300 today, Henley has
long been part of
the East Texas community, and in his own childhood he spent plenty
of time on Caddo Lake.
The memories and lessons from that time have guided him throughout
"My daddy passed on his great love for the outdoors," Henley
says. "And he taught me that my obligations did not stop
at our property line — I was obligated to vote and I was
obligated to do things for people in the community besides my
That love of nature and sense of community obligation was cemented
during his years at North Texas, where he was an avid English
"North Texas had a very, very good English department," he says. "I
mean, it was extraordinary, and I really loved it.
"The literature classes I took had a great deal to do with nature
and the spiritual or mythical element of nature, and those years
were very formative. My professors, including Marsue Johnson,
Richard Sale and James Giles, were a big influence."
Henley left North Texas in the spring of 1969 to spend time with
his father, who was dying from heart and arterial disease.
"I was very disturbed about my father's illness," he
says. "I was asking a lot of the big questions — 'Is
there a God? Why
do good people suffer? What does old age mean? Why do bad things
happen to good people?' — because my father was really
suffering and he was only in his early 60s."
Henley says the church didn't offer the answers he needed,
so he began re-reading the works of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph
"I started connecting divinity with nature, which made me see
nature in a whole new light. It wasn't just a place to have fun
on dirt bikes or hunt or fish — it was a place that had
a lot of inherent spirituality."
In February 1970, Henley and his band (a group from Linden, not
yet the Eagles) went to Los Angeles to record at
the invitation of Kenny Rogers. And his music career took off.
"And there went nature and spirituality," he says
jokingly, with a glint in his eye.
while the public may be well versed on the success of Henley
the drummer, singer and searching poet, many may
not know he has always maintained a great love for nature.
"I became an activist somewhere in the '70s," he says. "That
was part and parcel of being in a band back then."
At first, he was reactive, joining other people's causes,
he says. But in 1981 he started his first nonprofit called Mulholland
Tomorrow, which was dedicated to protecting the open space and
wildlife habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains and foothills in
the Mulholland Scenic Corridor in California.
The organization was recently disbanded but still has one lawsuit
pending against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
In 1989, when he heard on CNN that developers wanted
to build condominiums on Thoreau's Walden Pond in Massachusetts,
Henley founded the Walden Woods Project to raise public awareness
and the funds necessary to purchase and
preserve the endangered areas.
At that time, only 60 percent of Walden Woods was protected. Today,
nearly 90 percent of the 2,680-acre ecosystem
And a thriving institute dedicated to research and education based
on Thoreau's literature and philosophy provides programming
for high school teachers and students, researchers and scholars.
Working on the Walden Woods Project inspired Henley to
go in search of his own Walden.
"Everybody has a Walden of some type," he says. "It
might not necessarily be a pond. It might be an entire wetland.
Or it might be a forest or a vacant lot. But every town, every
city, every community has a Walden."
His search brought him to Caddo Lake.
"This lake, as Thoreau would put it, is a common treasure — a
treasure that belongs to the citizens and is not to be exploited
by or for the few," he says.
As an ecosystem, Caddo is a nearly 30,000-acre wetland with more
than 400 species of plants and animals.
In the last 12 years, in addition to buying more than 170 acres
surrounding Caddo Lake, Henley has spent nearly $2 million from
his own pocket and used his fame and talent to raise additional
funds for the fight to protect the lake.
the long run
he wins the latest skirmish, Henley says Caddo will not be without
"This lake, as beautiful as it is, has many problems," he
says. "This water is so polluted with mercury you can't
eat the fish — well, you can, but you do it at your own risk."
Other heavy metals, namely lead and titanium, are also recorded
at dangerous levels. And, because the lake is actually
a bald cypress savannah swamp, it's naturally shallow. Thus,
the sediment that washes in on a regular basis makes it even shallower
and speeds up the process of eutrophication — sunlight reaching
the bottom causes more plants to grow in the water, which sucks
out the oxygen and suffocates the fish.
"It's a delicate, interconnected ecosystem that requires
constant vigilance," Henley says. "The watershed for
this lake comprises 13 East Texas counties. It cannot be managed
fragmentally. It needs to be thought about as a whole."
He says the ideal plan would be to acquire all the land on each
side of the bayou to create a buffer zone to filter out the sediment
and pollutant runoff.
In the real world, Henley says he'll preserve the lake through
legislation, education, public outreach and, if
"I like to bite off more than I can chew," he says.