Vasquez has scent of the Valley again

LOS FRESNOS — Sarge Vasquez left his home of Santa Rosa for Texas A& M-Kingsville and a career in the biological sciences.

Then it was bouncing around managing some private ranches, working at the King Ranch, and then moving to Arkansas while working for the National Resources Conservation Service. He returned to the Valley in May as assistant refuge manager at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Odd as it may sound, his sense of smell keeps reminding him he’s really home.

“With the ebonies blooming, it just smells amazing,” the 43-yearold Vasquez said last week at the refuge offices. “I loved Arkansas, but the smell of the brush here when it’s blooming, it does something to you.”

Vasquez says his duties as assistant to Refuge Manager Boyd Blihovde basically mean he’s his “right-hand man.”

“Boyd has a saying called ‘divide and conquer,’ so whatever issues or workload we have on the refuge, we kind of divide it up and get it knocked out,” Vasquez said.

When Vasquez left the Valley his goal was to one day hunt the King Ranch. So naturally he enrolled at Texas A& M-Kingsville.

“I became a student at A& MKingsville and got on the hunting camp as a hunting guide and I was able to do that, hunt the King Ranch” he recalled. “But as a kid growing up you don’t have access to those places. So coming here, going to Santa Ana, going to Bentsen, that was an outlet for a brush rat, a kid who just loved being in the brush and trying to find all kinds of wildlife out there, all kinds of birds.

“Being in touch with nature, being in touch with what was here, it’s a link to history,” he says of the Valley’s last wild places.

At Laguna Atascosa, his personal history may run even deeper.

“A kind of cool thing is there’s a cemetery here, and there are a lot of Vasquezes buried here,” he said. “So now I’m kind of going, ‘Am I related to them or not?’ I don’t know.”

Laguna Atascosa is on the brink of some major changes as construction work begins tomorrow on a project which will allow the re-opening of much of the refuge’s popular Bayside Drive to vehicular traffic.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be like when I grew up,” Vasquez said. “As a kid when I first got my driver’s license, this is one of the first places I came to.”

Vasquez has been married to his wife, Scarlett, for 18 years, and they have two children.

He believes the connections he has with the Valley, Laguna Atascosa and nature are things he can pass on to his children and the rest of the Valley’s kids, too.

“You learn so much from nature,” Vasquez said. “One of the things, especially for kids, is finding your own inner peace. At least that’s what I find. When I get here in the morning as the sun’s coming up, just to drive in as the sun’s coming up, it’s food for the soul.”