Member Spotlight: Lisa Spangler

Published by Kirsti Harms on

In her own words:

I got interested in prairies after moving to Texas from Ohio — I like to joke that I grew up on Forest Avenue (it’s true, I really did). When we first moved to Texas we lived in an apartment in Northwest Austin and there was a big empty field next to it. There were so many cool plants! I got books to learn about all the wildflowers and later grasses — it was all so different from Ohio. Wine cups, bluebonnets, paintbrush, rain lilies, little bluestem and sideoats filled the meadow. It was glorious to be out there under a big blue sky and so different than the forests of Ohio where I grew up.

After we bought our house in 1998 I tried to plant a butterfly garden and it was an epic fail! All the plants that were recommended by southern gardening books just didn’t survive. I thought that there had to be a better way. And there is: native Texas plants, specifically native prairie plants!

We joined NPAT, the Native Plant Society of Texas, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and I learned about PRAIRIES! It blew my mind that there used to be bison in Austin and that Bull Creek was named for the last bull buffalo in Austin. 

Going on plant rescues with friends helped me learn even more and seeing how fast Austin was growing and what little local prairies were left were being developed — like that empty field next to our old apartment — it’s a mega church complex now. Prairies are such a special and little-known resource. School kids are taught about the rain forest and elephants and tigers but there’s not much education about what used to be right in our own backyards. 

Nowadays we have a pocket prairie in the back yard and the front has a mix of flower beds all filled with native Texas plants. It’s a certified wildlife habitat and we have so many birds, butterflies, unique bees, and even a Texas spiny lizard! Many of the plants from those early plant rescues have seeded out and are still thriving.

Some other random notes: I was a two-term president of the Austin chapter of NPSOT, and I was a software engineer for 20 years. If I can learn to draw and watercolor anyone can!

From NPAT:

These days, when Lisa isn’t hiking, traveling, or blogging about it, she is keeping our website looking good and functioning. Her computer and web programming skills have kept us out of trouble more than once!

And, she also teaches art! Her latest role is Ambassador for Art Toolkit. She hosts workshops on ways to sketch and paint the natural world. Lisa first started watercoloring a few years ago while she was recovering from 6 (!) surgeries for a torn ACL. During rehab she would walk to a pond in her neighborhood and use her Art Toolkit to do a little sketch, and to let her leg recover before making the trek back home. Visit Lisa’s blog at

Check out a few of Lisa’s photographs and watercolors!


Healing Hawk Tolson · April 1, 2022 at 1:30 am

I enjoyed reading about you, Lisa. Three quarters of the acre I live with is tall grass prairie in the Wimberley city limits – in the riparian corridor of the Blanco River. I walk deer paths to be with Gaia and restore my soul, fairly often, because I live ina world of wounds, like Aldo Leopold said it
The sound of the 2015 flood remains in my mind; the hissing of so much water moving fast. Habitat on the river was washed away, as were nearly all the massive cypress trees who had lined the banks. I hated going down there to see the dead floating by. The new crest record was twenty nine feet over the previous record. Now the warning system that no one wanted to pay for is, for the most part, maintained. A house with nine people of one family aboard floated by, over the Hwy. 12 bridge. Some of the bodies were found, some not. We had a fenced yard that I didn’t mow because I noted the butterflies feeding on what grew there. A lot of in shock folks came to visit, in the flood. We fed and watered them, seven generations of deer ago,
The habitat, Heartwood Habitat, was planted by deer poop and rain. Springtime, the place blooms and people stop to take photos. A 10-point White Tail deer is a sight to see. Some of the fawns became 10-point buck that men in jumbo pickup trucks stop to admire. Bring in the city limits has some benefits.
We lived in a cabin on the tallest peak in White Rabbit before then in a still-functioning oak/cedar forest ecosystem. In the 2011 drought, my wife got cancer and I spent time and money feeding and watering anyone who came to eat. I saw folks who wouldn’t have made the day straggle in, stay until they got ok again, and move on. A tree full of finches, painted buntings, golden cheeked warblers and scrub jays, even snakes, came for water. We put out bird feeders of various sorts and kept water and food available when I was there.
I became ecologically literate in Santa Rosa, CA when I lived up there for grad school (MFA in fiction writing). We bought 5 acres of wetland that had really tall grass I was allergic to and I kept water holes full of water to hatch the lot of tadpoles who were California Red-Legged Tree Frogs. I didn’t need to use any bought stuff for the fruit trees or strawberries in a permaculture design. If a bug landed, a frog was nearby to jump to the fruit and eat the bug. I don’t really try to identify critters by their scientific name. They just have as much right to be here as me, and I feed and water those who show up. Noting equals fruit and vegetables less than an hour from being harvested.
I came back to Texas in the drought of 2006 and wept for the trees moaning for lack of water, dying. I had a course in Sacred Trees and learned to talk with trees, and hear the response
. I have three mental illnesses from Vietnam service to US billionaires wanting control of Viet Nam’s oil, tin, and rubber (according to Rand Corp). It took 25 years or so of economic embargo and a nasty war to get them, but they did, and my respect for those who would do that evaporated The forfeited their right to live, in my estimation, but that’s Gaia’s business.
. I live on disability compensation and write fiction and commune with Gaia in Heartwood Habitat, which looks pathetic now, after this year’s freezes. Stuff would come to life, growing fast, then freeze, and three cycles later, nothing’s growing but low stuff that deer graze. Gaia is Gaia, good and bad, but sacred, the most sacred of living things in physical reality. I found NPAT in my effort to restore tall grass prairie, for itself (it’s gorgeous in springtime) and to sequester enough carbon dioxide to avoid 450ppm of CO2 in an overfull atmosphere due to ruination of tall grass prairie in Texas. I’m 6th generation, so I feel free to tell the truth about the condition Texas people let the thing that lets them avoid high levels of CO2 pollution, because Big Oil has a divine right to pollute.
I’m not sure, of course, but climate scientists I respect say 450ppm is irreversible, the 6th Mass Extinction (they don’t say that, just the irreversible and catastrophic. We can avoid 450ppm by restoring the tall grass prairie in TX and bringing back the buffalo. That was a forever climax ecosystem that human ignorance took over. Texas still doesn’t teach Ecology in public schools. Folks come in and plant gardens with kids, but ecoliteracy is more than gardening. So I stay sad and angry watching real estate developers build suburbs and strip malls over tall grass. It’s immoral – and dumb as nails, ecologically illiterate behavior. After it’s really hot here, all of that crap in the tall grass will be vacant because if you go outside for fifteen minutes, you cook, and they will. So, for money (a human invention) our salvation from out of control polluters, the tall grass prairie (not a human invention), is gone. It’s going to be a rough ride and the ecoliterate have the best chance to survive. Healthy soil resequesters a lot of CO2 and that’s what tall grass prairies have lots of. What we can do is plant gardens, as you have done, Lisa, because it’s beautiful, makes Gaia happy, and sequesters lots of carbon in healthy soil. But a food garden, which everyone should grow now so you come to love it before it gets tough to find food, since food plants don’t set bloom over 95 degrees F, sequesters CO2.
I took Dr. Bob Randall’s Master Gardener course at Urban Harvest when I lived in Houston, and took a Permaculture Design Course in Sonoma County taught by Penny Livingston and Starhawk, that she named Earth Activist Training. You can still do the residential course if you go to and signing up. Or Penny teaches a PDC at Occidental Art & Ecology Center every year, if she’s still up to it. If Brock Dolman is still alive, he teaches it, too. Warning: don’t go if you’re not willing to become ecologically literate and enter a world of wounds. We owe Gaia the amend of fixing what we broke. Sequestering carbon is one way. I’ve gone into preacher mode. Sorry I didn’t warn you first. I’m glad you’re here, doing what you do.

Steve Schwartzman · April 1, 2022 at 6:36 am

Growing up on Forest Avenue was a good omen indeed.
That’s a good picture from out west.

Sarah Flournoy · April 1, 2022 at 8:20 pm

This is a wonderful profile of a special naturalist and artist.

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