Please join us in welcoming our newest team member, Gabriel Durham! Before Houston Audubon, Gabriel grew up on the road with musician parents. This took him all over the U.S. and he birded out the truck window and in campsites to pass the time. This cultivated a lifelong passion for conservation that culminated in a Master’s Degree in Ecological Anthropology from the University of Houston. Gabriel is also a Texas Master Naturalist (Gulf Coast Chapter) and LEED G.A. He comes to us with extensive experience in volunteerism and conservation science from previous roles at the University of Houston and Hermann Park Conservancy.
Gabriel answered a few questions for us so everyone can get to know him a little better.
1. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
At this point in my life I would live on Kauai Island, Hawaii not only for the biodiversity and beauty but because of its midway point between Asia and America. I need to visit the Rocky Mountains frequently for my soul and Japan frequently for my martial art, so it really is the perfect point on the globe for my heart, body, and art.
2. If money was no object, what would you do all day?
I would have my kid as soon as possible and find a place to raise them in the richest nature I could find. Then I would set up a retreat center for healing in nature and make it free because money was no object. I could meditate in the woods for the rest of my life and being able to raise a child completely outdoors, and offer that same tranquility and space to others would be a dream come true.
3. If you could go back in time to change one thing, what would it be?
That’s a toss-up between stopping the Library of Alexandria burning, or making it so no one ever discovered a use for fossil fuels. Loosing the Library lost countless records of science, religion, metaphysics and the like that could have sent civilization in a much richer, more holistic direction. Conversely, if I could somehow make fossil fuels useless to the industrialists back in the day, so many ecological and social catastrophes could be avoided. In fact, I consider the adopting of fossil fuels and related plastic industries the biggest “disaster” in geological history.
4. What are your hobbies?
I am a meditation and martial arts instructor and musician. I received direct training in Japan and China and now teach martial arts twice a week and teach meditation by appointment with students all over the U.S. Additionally, I have been playing music and singing since I was very small and perform semi-frequently at folk festivals and house concerts.
5. What motivates you to work hard?
The land. I have a deep love of biodiversity and watching Nature work. Nothing makes me feel better than witnessing the genius of nature when it is properly supported by people, be that in a thriving organic garden or in restored conservation areas buzzing with birds, bugs, and other organisms. I am a firm believer that nature is far more intelligent than any human construct and that motivates me to do anything I can to foster and protect these highly evolved systems that truly are the root of all we know and do. A favorite quote I think sums it all up: “Despite all our achievements we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains” – Paul Harvey
6. If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?
Patrick Rothfuss (favorite author and all around wonderful human being), Aldo Leopold (author of the Sand County Almanac), Chief Black Elk of the Ogalala Lakota, and Franz Boas (father of American Anthropology). Though I would not want to eat with all four of these folks together, each one is a pivotal figure in my life and passions.
7. What is your favorite bird?
Hard question! Right now, it probably is the Pueo or Hawaiian Short-eared Owl. On my honeymoon my wife and I were blessed to see a pair of these diurnal owls on a mountain hike. The fact that these are not only tropical island owls but also diurnal makes them especially unique to me, like they are “opposite owls” to their relatives. Their rapidly declining populations and elusive behavior likely also make the sighting my rarest birding encounter.
8. Have you ever had a surprise party (that was an actual surprise)?
I had to answer this question because once my wife was working in Florida for a summer while I was finishing graduate school. My friends were having a party for me to keep me company and I was surprised to find my wife was at the party to surprise me! I had called her earlier that day and she had answered “in Florida” talking all about her having to go back to work and how her boss was that day. All a ruse to cover the fact she had flown all the way to Houston the night before, just to surprise me. I’ll never stop bragging about how she pulled that off.
9. Are you related or distantly related to anyone famous?
My great, great, great, grand uncle is the Mountain Man Jim Bridger. This fact is what inspired my father to write his first Ballad of the West, which I grew up performing with him. Its no coincidence that much of my life has been spent in National Parks and I thank my relation to Jim Bridger for bolstering that.
10. What started your passion for conservation?
I have always had a passion for biodiversity and thriving nature as I mention in other questions. Traveling all over the US and abroad highlighted the manifold ecosystems that are being impacted by human overconsumption and waste. Going to school in the city, I felt a deep need to show these people the wonders of biodiversity and how to change their behavior to protect it. This led to an early career in sustainability but after 10 years, I found that field problematic as well and discovered I truly love wild spaces and, in fact, see them as the best strategy for a sustainable future. Thriving wild spaces store carbon, prevent soil erosion, provide habitat and food, relieve mental illness, cost less to maintain, etc. So now, conservation to me is also protecting the future of OUR species, not just the birds.
Please join us in welcoming Gabriel to the Houston Audubon team, and feel free to reach out to him if you’re interested in volunteering with us!