Houston Chronicle features Living Witness

Houston Chronicle features Living Witness

Tracy Lehmann, travel writer and preserver of all things Authentically Texan for both the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News, has written the following article about Living Witness. As a native of Kerrville, she knows a thing or two about Texas trees and the pleasures of being outdoors. Thanks, Tracy, for doing your part to keep our history and natural wonders top-of-mind.


“Spending 20 years in the concrete jungle of New York and 50 cents at an Austin garage sale paid off for Ralph Yznaga and connected the San Antonio native to deep Texas roots.

When Yznaga, a University of Texas graduate who works in advertising, returned to Austin after two decades in New York, he happened on a copy “Famous Texas Trees.” He pored over the half-dollar purchase for a couple of years before setting out on weekend trips about five years ago to visit each of the trees the Texas Forest Service had singled out in the 1969 book.

“I had lived away for so long. This was a journey to reconnect with the state,” Yznaga said. He discovered out-of-the-way places such as Panna Maria, the country’s oldest Polish settlement; encountered interesting people; and learned a wealth of legends.

He hopes others will make similar discoveries with the book he compiled, “Living Witness: Historic Trees of Texas” (Texas A&M University Press, 164 pp., $29.95). The book includes photographs Yznaga made with his 1957 Roliflex camera and stories of more than 30 trees that have seen settlers, soldiers and the passage of time.

Among the legendary trees in the book are the 1,000-year-old Goose Island Oak, also known as the “Big Tree”; the Ben Milam Cypress on the San Antonio River Walk; and the Panna Maria Oaks.

“The trees are beautiful, but it’s the stories that make them interesting to us,” Yznaga said. “That’s what prompted me to go out and make this book a reality.”

The book includes driving directions to each of the trees, as does a free iPhone app. Through the app and his website, livingwitness.net, Yznaga encourages other enthusiasts to share stories of their favorite trees. They might be included in the sequel.

“This project just keeps growing. No pun intended,” Yznaga said.”