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A common treasure by Kelley Reese
Spring 2004      

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"Yon't pie?"

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"Yon't pie?"

Those tangy, twangy East Texas words may well be the sweetest sounds I ever did hear.

Of course that's probably more to do with the fact that when Don Henley uttered them while leaning over my shoulder, the childlike joy in his voice was also visible in his twinkling, bright blue eyes.

It seemed as though eating, and sharing, Miss Betty's homemade chocolate meringue pie was the greatest pleasure this international rock star had ever had. Undoubtedly it was.

If the day I spent with Don on Caddo Lake showed me nothing else about this man, it was that he lives his life with purpose. And on purpose, he appreciates the joy offered in every moment of life.

As I declined the pie (I was already eating a healthy helping of the homemade banana pudding), this ever-professional journalist's heart melted and mind immediately jumped to wondering if my hair looked all right.

This, after all, was Don Henley — a personal hero.

I was just 17 when his commitment to preserve the environment entered my consciousness. His music had already long been part of my life.

Henley was one of the first performers to do a concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands in 1991. The Woodlands, at the time, was a community of about 30,000 people set in the pine forest on the north edge of Houston. It was designed as a planned community — with environmental preservation at the forefront. The forest and wildflowers were abundant and a source of pride.

And about halfway through his set, Henley sat down on the edge of the stage to talk to the audience about the beauty of the trees that surrounded us. He talked about another beautiful forest, too. This one a national treasure that was under threat of being destroyed. He had learned on CNN that a developer planned to build condominiums on Walden Pond and in the woods surrounding it.

He spoke eloquently about every person's connection to and need for nature, and our responsibilities to use nature in a way that preserves it. And he told us that after hearing that news story, he did something. He started the Walden Woods Project and, through it, with our help, our national treasure could be preserved.

By the time I was 17 my parents had already made sure I knew I had a responsibility to my community. That it wasn't just about giving back, but rather about being a part of.

Yet, Henley's words that night struck a chord that showed me the power of one idea. Yes, he was famous. And wealthy. But he still had simply heard a news story — the same way I did — and he did something about it. The same way I could. And today Walden Pond and most of the woods surrounding it are protected for posterity.

I was inspired. Henley's words moved me. His actions proved the power of the individual. My faith in the strength of humanity and the greatness of democracy has been unshakable since.

Don HenleySo, spending a day on Caddo Lake talking to Don about his latest efforts to preserve yet another environmental treasure was much more than just an assignment I would enjoy.

And while discussing the lake, his efforts, the philosophies of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, and the current state of our environment, I was happy to the core. Purely. Simply. Happy.

I was also struck by the fact that Don truly is just a genuine Texan. Who lives a life filled with the same joys and sorrows we all have.

The impromptu tour he gave us of Linden, his hometown, on our way back to Dallas, proved that in the most touching of ways. It started when he suddenly pulled off the road and jumped out of his car to point out the spot where his junior high was. It had burned down.

We also stopped outside the house he grew up in, and the Chevy dealership where he played his first gig.

"They had two of the new long Chevys with fins out here and we set up right next to them and played. We were called the Four Speeds. It was a big deal."

Then we went to the American Legion Hall that his childhood friend has turned into a concert venue proclaiming Linden as Music City, Texas. It stands in the field where Don did his FFA ag project — he grew an acre of cucumbers and pickled them — and which today sports a T-ball diamond.

When we made it to Daingerfield, he pulled off the road again to point out the building that housed his father's NAPA Auto Parts store.

"This building next to it was the general store, and I'd come in the back door here to get fountain drinks and candy. The building's for sale, and I may buy it. Just for sentimental reasons. But I don't know. We'll see."

Henley's connection to nature and his passionate need to preserve it is linked with his father's long, painful illness before his death. And it was his parents who instilled in him an understanding of community obligation.

I believe that it is everyday people — those like my mom and dad who toil to make their lives and those of the people in their community (both friends and strangers) a little better — who are heroes deserving of my awe. My day with Don left me in awe, and profoundly aware that he deserves the moniker 'hero.'

And I suppose that's why when he offered me pie, my instinct was to wonder about my hair.


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