Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wildlife and Aldo Leopold

Wolf_Kolmården.jpgDaniel Mott from Stockholm, Sweden
How could I NOT have heard about Aldo Leopold before now? When I won the book from Far Side of Fifty last week (A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold), I entered a new and exciting part of the universe that I didn't know anything about. That first link will tell you everything about Leopold, but here's the short version. He was born in 1887 and lived to the age of 61; he died in 1948. The book for which he is famous was published posthumously by his son in 1949. Leopold died of a heart attack while helping a neighbor fight a wildfire.

In the early 1920s, he was assigned to hunt and kill bears, wolves, and mountain lions in New Mexico. He learned to respect these animals and came to realize their important place in the ecosystem. From that link:
In 1935 he helped found the Wilderness Society, dedicated to expanding and protecting the nation's wilderness areas. He regarded the society as "one of the focal points of a new attitude—an intelligent humility toward man's place in nature."
In the book, he talks about killing a wolf, and how it changed him. This is from pp. 138-139:
We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed the way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock. 
In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide rocks. 
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes  something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
It took awhile, but Leopold began to realize that the integrity of the ecosystem in which we live requires wildlife.  There is now an Aldo Leopold Foundation, and his children and grandchildren have become naturalists and educators. He was truly a great man. Another quote from the Wikipedia link is from Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of the Interior:
In January of 1995 I helped carry the first grey wolf into Yellowstone, where they had been eradicated by federal predator control policy only six decades earlier. Looking through the crate into her eyes, I reflected on how Aldo Leopold once took part in that policy, then eloquently challenged it. By illuminating for us how wolves play a critical role in the whole of creation, he expressed the ethic and the laws which would reintroduce them nearly a half-century after his death.
I have never seen a Grey Wolf but I have certainly heard them in the wild, and I'll bet you have, too. Thank you, Connie, for introducing me to Leopold's book. I am enjoying it immensely. She also sent me two lovely cards and said that she couldn't resist sending along a little bit of Minnesota too: both are pictures that she took, mounted on cards with included envelopes I can use to send to special people.
Raspberries and Yellow Lady Slipper
And then there's the book, a treasure indeed, that I will slip into and enjoy every second. The book is, as it says on the cover, "the classic statement of the joy and beauty found in a style of life that protects the environment." For someone who has seen only two bears (magnificent as they were) and mountain goats twice, I can attest to the feeling of majesty they impart to the wilderness. Here's a picture of the entire package I received:
I didn't go for a hike today because of the possibility of getting in to see the doctor about my allergies, which have been driving me crazy. Instead, I'm sitting here in the middle of the afternoon writing this post, and enjoying "A Sand County Almanac." I didn't realize how lucky I was, and I'm so happy to be able to share it with my blogging friends.


  1. What a touching post! I have a new respect for wolves. Yes, tell us about protecting the ecosystem.

  2. Sometimes precious jewels drop in our laps for reasons we can never imagine. This book was yours. I cannot think of a better ambassador for the environment than you.

    Your allergies must be bad for you to miss a hike. I hope you were able to see a doctor. Nurse daughter is here caring for us this week while we've been so sick. She has me using a product called "Simply Saline: A Nasal Wash."
    It works like the Netty Pot, only with less trouble and mess. I needed convincing and I'm now a convert. The comfort after a treatment is unbelievable.

  3. I have heard of him only because I watch almost any nature program I can find. This sounds like a wonderful, educational book. What a special treat that Connie sent you a couple of beautiful cards, too. I am so glad you won! It was meant to be. :):)

  4. Tears in my eyes. What a wonderful gift. Thank you for regifting it to all of us.

  5. Leopold was a great man. I'm glad you won the copy of A Sand County Almanac, it is a great book that I read many years ago. I know you are going to enjoy it.

    It is disturbing, and sad, that wolves are once again being hunted into extinction.

    Those cards are gorgeous.

  6. nice...i had not heard of him prior..a touching story with the really scored with this give away...

  7. Funny how the early environmentalists and conservationists came from a hunting background. Many of them learned about the system from the hours they spent in the wild.
    By the way, great description to the book.

  8. This is such a beautiful post, DJan. It reminds me of a book I read a long time ago called Never Cry Wolf. They made it into a movie. It completely changed my view of wolves.

  9. Hi DJan, That book will touch you in ways you didn't think was possible. I am so glad you are enjoying you can understand why I buy them at garage sales to give to others!! :)

  10. I enjoyed reading this post. We people need to learn to respect nature and learn to live with it without ruining it.

  11. Hi DJan, so glad you talk about the book and when you won it on Connie's blog I was thrilled for you.

    I like the comment Linda left here for you. She so eloquently speaks for all of us.

  12. Wow. What a terrific post. It is going to stay with me for awhile today, I think.

  13. I absolutely do not get the hunting instinct over there. I had to skip part of that post because I found it too distressing. I'm glad you're enjoying the book though.

  14. DJan, thank you for including that beautiful and moving excerpt from the book. I'd heard of Aldo Leopold but didn't really appreciate his story until reading this. I may have to go out and find a copy for myself!

  15. Love love love A Sand County Almanac--- have it sitting on my bookshelf.

    Sorry to hear about the allergies. I have experienced some the past couple of years for the first time. It sucks. lol

    Hope you're back in business soon!! xoxoxoxo

  16. Back in the late seventies and early I and a group of friends were very much into nature and conservation. We did a lot of camping and backpacking and lots of deep conversations around the campfires. It was one of those conversations when someone asked if I had read A Sand County Almanac. When we got back into town I checked out a copy at the library.

    I thought about the passage you quoted while on the Arctic slope outside Barrow, late at night (but still daylight), listening to a wolf pack singing to each other. How could anyone want to wipe out these beautiful animals?

  17. It sounds like a wonderful book. I know that every interaction I have with wildlife makes me more in awe of nature than ever before. Wolves are such beautiful creatures.. there's room for all.

  18. The Apennines here in our area of Italy have the four National Parks and the native species of wolf which never went extinct. Now that they're talking about re-introducing wolves in other areas of Europe, they will get them from here. On one of our hikes we saw two wolves, a very rare occurrence.


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