Monday, April 4, 2011

Leopold's Legacy

"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot." (Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1948; photo from The Aldo Leopold Foundation)

So began the readings from A Sand County Almanac on Saturday at the first New Hampshire Aldo Leopold Weekend in Northwood. More than forty people gathered to hear University of New Hampshire ecology professor Dr. Tom Lee talk about Aldo Leopold and his legacy. Following Tom's presentation, a half dozen people read essays from A Sand County Almanac - each had picked their favorite passage.

Steve began with the Foreword to the book, which begins with the passage above and ends with, "Perhaps such a shift of values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free." Another Steve and his 8-year old daughter Brenna read together a section about pines from the chapter December; the pine being Brenna's favorite tree. Harmony read January Thaw, then Richard read, On a Monument to the Pigeon - a story about the extinct passenger pigeon, a species once numbering in the millions.

Rebecca read Thinking Like a Mountain, the recounting of Leopold's transformational experience watching a fierce green fire dying in the eyes of a mother wolf that he had shot. I read Sky Dance, in celebration of the mating ritual of the male woodcock that can be seen and heard outside each evening in spring.

A potluck supper followed the readings. People shared food and conversation, renewing a community tradition that has lost its way in recent times, but which is being revived in Northwood. More readings from A Sand County Almanac followed; people are inspired to read passages from Leopold's writings, so timeless is his thinking.

The evening culminated in the screening of the documentary film, Green Fire - Aldo Leopold and A Land Ethic For Our Time, a New England premiere. Nearly 100 people gathered to see the movie and dozens stayed on to talk about Leopold's legacy and the need for a renewed land ethic in our time.

Leopold wrote, "A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity." Leopold was not much interested in politics, he cared about people and the land and worked to improve the relationships of people to the land. He must have had a positive outlook, given the events of his time (1887-1948).

The issues are no less daunting today. With Leopold as a guiding light, we should look not to ethically-challenged politicians for a land ethic, but to each other. Together we can build a community with an ecological conscience. In Leopold's words, "All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts."

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