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BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Grass is Greener BY STAYTON BONNER Water From Stone The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve By Jeffrey Greene Texas A&M University Press 224 pages, $24.95 In Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar depos it for substantial and genuine virtue.” Under Jefferson’s Arcadian ideal, the constant communion between gentleman farmers and nature would create a self-reliant and virtuous America free of the mass corruption he perceived in Europe, where “mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.” In contrast with Jefferson’s agrarian republic founded on states’ rights, Alexander Hamilton sought a strong, centralized government that would act in the interests of industry and commerce. Hamilton’s vision for an industrialized America ultimately came to pass, but Jefferson’s agrarian idealism still reflects how Americans like to see themselves. In the second-largest state in the union, which also has the smallest percentage of public land, J. David Bamberger’s ranch preserve is a uniquely successful blend of Hamiltonian realism and Jeffersonian ideals, an exemplar of what can happen when sound business methods are applied to land conservation. In Water from Stone, author and brother-inlaw Jeffrey Greene outlines Bamberger’s winding career, from door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman to Church’s Fried Chicken co-founder to internationally lauded conservationist. While Bamberger’s business path is well detailed, the book’s major thrust focuses on how he used his resources and salesman’s ingenuity to promote conservation education, in Texas and around the world. As Greene writes, “His story is not inspirational because he attained considerable wealth through industry and imagination. … It is, however, inspiring because an early passion for nature instilled in him by his mother and his rural Ohio beginnings combined with entrepreneurial instincts led to an entirely unique approach to selling environmental causes?’ As a boy on his family’s modest Ohio farm, Bamberger was indelibly influenced by a copy of Louis Bromfield’s Pleasant Valley. Bromfield, a successful novelist and screenwriter, recounted his experiences revitalizing acres of neglected land into a self-sufficient farm, its fruits shared equally among its workers. Named “Malabar?’ after India’s Malabar coast, Bromfield’s farm just south of Mansfield, Ohio, became an international destination. By day, crowds learned land cultivation and restoration techniques. By night, Bromfield hosted high-society parties in his stately home, most famously the 1945 wedding of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Bromfield’s best-selling story made a lifelong impression on Bamberger. “Reading that book, Pleasant Valley, changed my life,” Bamberger recalls in Water From Stone. “No one before Bromfield talked about ‘habitat restoration: This was well before Rachel Carson and the others. After reading that book, I said to myself that if ever I make money, I want to do the same thing to a piece of land.” Succeeding in the business world took Bamberger and his struggling family across the South and eventually to San Antonio. His fortune made, Bamberger bought 5,500 acres of ranchland near Blanco in the Hill Country. He was intent on following Bromfield’s lead in revitalizing abused land. “A real estate broker was taking me around, showing me these fancy homes with landing strips, swimming pools, and tennis courts. And I went, ‘No, no, no, you got me all wrong. I want a lousy piece of real estate. I want the worst thing you got. I want something nobody else wants,'” Bamberger recalls. “The broker looked at me and said, ‘Well, there’s a whole lot of that around:” Naming his land “Selah,” an Old Testament term meaning “pause and reflect?’ Bamberger began turning back the clock on decades of neglect. Razing 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 29, 2007