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“We are losing species; we are losing viable water systems. We are losing forest systems. We are losing grasslands. You know, every natural community has lost so much of its area, we can’t afford to lose any more.”

–Melissa Savage

Aldo Leopold in the Southwest

By Jack Loefflerbuying viagra online

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“He, of all the environmental thinkers I’ve read, put together perhaps the most cohesive view of the natural world, and he did it in a way that is more accessible and more persuasive than anyone else has done. So I see him as the essential man, the touchstone to whom we all go back, no matter our disagreements with him. And we should always be in tension with our mentors in a sense. We should always be re-examining what has been passed down to us.

“But he is a giant, and no one has given us a more complete view and a better expressed view than Aldo Leopold.” So says author and environmentalist William de Buys, himself in the vanguard of a cadre of conservation-minded activists.

Indeed, Aldo Leopold was a giant whose influence continues to spread like a blaze fanned by the wind.

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He was born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1887, and died of a heart attack in 1948 while fighting a grass-fire. The singed pages of an ever-present journal were found in his pocket.

Leopold grew up in a house that over-looked the Mississippi River. He attended the Yale School of Forestry, graduated with a master’s degree in 1909, and at th(is) point a century ago, made a move that would change his life and his mind: Aldo Leopold came to the American Southwest. It was here that his thinking was refined by the rough and tumble reality of this arid landscape then sparsely populated by Indians, Hispanos and ranchers, all of whom took their survival cues from the flow of Nature.

In those days, many recalled the Indian wars that had dominated the nineteenth century. Those ranchers and rangers who rode the rangeland considered shooting bear, bobcats, cougars, and wolves to be their contribution to taming the West. Young Aldo was no exception. There are photos of him astride his horse, the very image of the pistol-packin’ hero of cowpoke mythology.

His first job was in the Apache National Forest in the Arizona Territory where he became deeply attached to the landscape. In 1911, he was transferred to the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico where he achieved his great ambition to become the supervisor of a national forest. It was during this period that he met Estella Luna Bergere, a lady born into one of New Mexico’s oldest and most distinguished families. They fell in love and were married in 1912. Together, they built their first home, a rustic hand-hewn cabin situated in Tres Piedras, New Mexico. It was from here that the new supervisor administered the Carson National Forest.

Leopold spent much of his working life on horseback. The Carson National Forest is spread across different ranger districts that span an immense landscape. At one point he was returning from a trip to Durango, and while riding through the Jicarilla Ranger District, harsh weather knocked him right out of the saddle.

His younger daughter, Estella, now 83 and Professor Emeritus*, Department of Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, recounts that her father “was sick for two years flat after he had ridden across a pass and a snowstorm fell on him. Everything was wet, and he had to sleep in that wet bedroll for a couple of nights. By the time he made it to Mother, to home, he had a bad kidney infection, or condition, and it knocked him out for a couple of years. It was terrible.”

Once he was well enough to work again, Leopold took a position as the executive secretary for the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. During this period he befriended a young insurance executive and fellow Midwesterner, and the ramifications of his friendship with Clinton B. Anderson had extraordinary significance. As Stewart Udall recalled in a speech given at the Sixth National Wilderness Conference in Santa Fe in 1994, “Anderson developed a love affair with the natural world. He acquired many of his conservation convictions as a result of a friendship he formed with Aldo Leopold . . . on trips they made into nearby mountains.”

Leopold returned to the U.S. Forest Service, after World War I and was assigned the position of assistant regional forester in charge of operations throughout some twenty million acres within the Southwest. He revisited areas he had first seen ten years earlier and was deeply aware of how the lands had eroded.

Courtney White, is the author of Revolution on the Range, and cofounder and executive director of the Quivira Coalition in Santa Fe, an organization dedicated to “broadcasting the principles of ecologically sensitive ranch management”. He explains, “Leopold saw tremendous gullying, deep arroyos in these landscapes that he suspected were not natural as he was taught. He began to make connections between grass and soil and rain and slope and overgrazing, principally by cattle. He wasn’t anti-grazing but he certainly was anti-bad management. Leopold wrote an amazing essay called ‘Pioneers and Gullies’ published in Sunset Magazine of all places—one of the popular magazines—in 1924, where he decries the pioneer attitude towards land and how they just had come in, taken a European way of living in a wetter environment with certain kinds of agricultural practices, put it in an environment that he called a ‘hair-trigger ecological environment,’ meaning the desert Southwest—and not understood the effects.”

Leopold scholar Susan Flader, Board Member with the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, advanced the notion that this concept became the basis for his celebrated essay “The Land Ethic” that appears as the final piece in Leopold’s masterwork, A Sand County Almanac.

It was apparently in the Jicarilla Ranger District of the Carson National Forest where Leopold seriously ruminated on cattle-wrought erosion, the same ranger district where earlier he was stricken with the near fatal kidney malaise. It was at the north end of this ranger district that I served as a fire lookout atop Caracas Mesa for a few seasons during the 1960s. Few cattle ranged there during my time, but evidence of the presence of cattle, sheep and horses remained. It was through this same forest that the Old Spanish Trail had meandered during the Mexican Period of the nineteenth century when caravans of traders wended west to California where sheep were sold, and New Mexican trade goods were swapped for horses that were driven back to New Mexico. A herd of wild horses still ranged throughout the Jicarilla landscape. I once witnessed a curandero, Felipe Madrid, slowly walk up to one of these wild horses and gently slip a lariat over its neck to then lead it peacefully back to his place in the village of Caracas near the banks of the San Juan River.

Camped beneath that open sky for months at a time, looking out over a vast landscape, listening to the wind pass through the Ponderosa Pines bearing occasional choruses of wild turkeys and coyotes, visiting with deer and bobcats, watching eagles hover, and savoring the night time when no light of human provenance intruded, I came to know my own kinship with the wild, to recognize that an ethical relationship to homeland comes from within, and that Aldo Leopold had hit the mark as he clearly articulated his own deep wisdom that was to influence generations as yet unborn.

Susan Flader reveals, “There is a concept that he got from Ouspensky

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(Russian philosopher and author of Tertium Organum), although he never credits Ouspensky directly with it. It’s the concept of the noumenon as distinct from phenomenon: phenomenon being the outward manifestation which you can easily see and understand, and the noumenon being the inner meaning, the essence of something. One of the first times that he wrote about it was actually in another unpublished manuscript. He was writing a book on Southwestern game fields. In one of the early chapters, he writes about the deer as the noumenon of the Southwestern mountains. He says, ‘Without the presence of the deer or the possibility of seeing a deer in each new dip and bend in the hillside, the Southwest would be empty, a spiritual vacuum.’”

Leopold perceived deer as the noumenon of the wild Southwest. Later he would regard the wolf, which he and others had caused to be extirpated from the landscape, to be the noumenon of the wild. He would laud every attempt to restore the wolf to the Southwest, so that the green fire of the wolf’s eyes could burn once again in the mind of the mountain. The presence of the noumenon embellished Leopold’s vision of the Spirit of Nature.

William de Buys expands this notion when he says, “One of the things that I think he glimpsed that is now sort of a cornerstone of ecological thinking is the idea of energy flowing through land: of water moving, of air moving, of nutrients moving and so forth. He had this vision, this integrated holistic vision, of the flows through the ecosystem, and they took place often within the watershed unit. So he saw the watershed as being a primary unit for land management and even more for land understanding.”

Nina Leopold Bradley adds to the breadth of her father’s scope: “I could say that he is the most religious person I ever knew, and he never went inside of a church. He knew right from wrong. He lived his life ethically. He, I guess, didn’t need the guidance of a deity. …He was always teaching us, but never did you know he was teaching us. If you asked him a question, then he would just do everything to try to draw you out, make you think. But he never said ‘This is so-and-so and you should understand that it is related to the things next to it.’ He was very subtle in the way he taught.

In 1922, Aldo Leopold submitted a formal proposal that part of the Gila National Forest of southern New Mexico be administrated as a wilderness area off limits to vehicular traffic, mining, timbering, and heavy machinery. His proposal was accepted by the Forest Service in 1924, and thus the Gila Wilderness became the first such wilderness area in the United States. Forty years later, the Wilderness Act was passed into federal law. The passage of this occurred on the watch of Stewart Udall during his tenure as Secretary of the Interior.

In the words of Stewart Udall, “Clinton Anderson was an insurance man in Albuquerque, and he and Leopold became friends. I think this is probably in the early 1920s in Albuquerque. They used to discuss the national forests, and Leopold convinced Anderson that the Wilderness Bill was a good idea and there should be a law protecting wilderness. Anderson became a congressman and became a senator in 1948 and he became chairman of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee in 1960 right after Kennedy was elected. He went to the White House and he told Kennedy to sponsor a wilderness bill, and he handed him a copy of his bill, Senate Bill 5. He said ‘Call for the enactment of a wilderness bill.’ Kennedy agreed and put it in his conservation message… Lyndon Johnson signed it (Wilderness Bill) into law, I think in September 1964.”

Thus the trail was blazed for protecting wilderness for its own sake.

Aldo Leopold twice journeyed into the Río Gavilan watershed in northwestern Mexico. It was here that he stepped into what he regarded as true, unsullied wilderness for the first time. He perceived that earlier on, people had lived in this watershed and had fashioned terraces and check dams where small plots of land had once been transformed into gardens, and were now long abandoned to the deer and other wild creatures. Leopold wrote his provocative essay entitled “Song of the Gavilan” wherein he reflected on how indeed humans had lived in harmony with this habitat. His essay clearly reveals the nature of his mind and intuitions: “…On a still night, when the campfire is low and the Pleiades have climbed over rimrocks, sit quietly and listen for a wolf to howl, and think hard of everything you have seen and tried to understand. Then you may hear it—a vast pulsing harmony—its score inscribed on a thousand hills, its notes the lives and deaths of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning the seconds and centuries.”

Gary Paul Nabhan is the author of many books and is regarded as one of America’s great natural historians: “You know, I’ve been meditating on Aldo Leopold’s second trip in the Río Gavilán in the Chihuahuan borderlands that he took with his brother Carl and his son Starker and a number of friends from both New Mexico and Chihuahua. It was ostensibly a hunting trip, but what he harvested there was far more than venison or quail or bear meat. What he found there was the concept of ecosystem health that we now use. He called it ecological health. That concept included rather than excluded land-based cultures. And after living in New Mexico with the Luna family, after growing up in Iowa among many land-based ethnic cultures, he had thus in his background (the understanding) that stewardship of the land, whether it’s done by hunters and gatherers or whether it’s done by farmers and ranchers, can stabilize, enhance, or restore the diversity of depleted places and does not inextricably mean that humans will deplete that diversity.”

In 1944, Aldo Leopold wrote an essay entitled “Thinking Like a Mountain” wherein he reflected on an incident that had occurred in 1909 when he was still a greenhorn ranger in the Blue Range of the Arizona Territory. He and others happened onto a small pack of wolves. They emptied their rifles into the wolf pack, and as they examined the carnage, one wolf still lived. Leopold looked into the eyes of this dying wolf and watched the wild, green fire in those eyes blink out. The memory haunted him into an epiphany of recognition that the living spirit of the wolf was integral to the mind of the mountain. It took thirty-five years for this epiphany to be fully realized and manifested in one of his greatest essays that appears in A Sand County Almanac.

Sand County is located in Wisconsin where Aldo Leopold, his wife Estella, his sons Starker, Carl and Luna, and his daughters Nina and Estella lived for many years. It was here that Leopold purchased a soil-starved farm, rebuilt the Shack into a livable dwelling, and over the weekends of the rest of his life restored the wasted land to wildness. The Leopold family were tightly knit. They worked together to restore the land, and they played together and ate together. Aldo and his wife, Estella sat at the dinner table and held hands throughout their marriage. Their daughter, also named Estella had this to say: “Mom was wonderful. And they were very, very close. Dad came home every noon for lunch and walked in the door and mother would greet him with her apron on and they would hug and he would say, ‘Estella, the house looks so beautiful. How do you do it?’ and sit down and have lunch and hold hands, which was great. They were very warm and she was, of course, very supportive”.

Nina Leopold Bradley recalls, “Dad had a wonderful sense of humor. There was never any small talk around Dad. It was always very, very serious. But if something really captured him, he would just dissolve. I remember one time my sister (Estella) was late in arriving at the shack. We were all there for the weekend. So she took the train and her bicycle and her pet—her pet squirrel—and took the train to Baraboo and then rode her bike in to the edge of the marsh, and then she had to swim across the marsh. My father and I, we just happened to be out taking a walk and Dad saw this creature swimming along with this squirrel on her head, and I thought he was going to collapse in laughter. He just absolutely broke down. He had a wonderful sense of humor.”

The entire Leopold family brought their land in Sand County back into a state of wild balance and harmony, actually practicing restoration ecology, the concept for which had germinated in Leopold’s mind during his years in the Southwest as he gazed out over cattle-burnt lands. He wrote A Sand County Almanac in Wisconsin from within the fomentation of a mind honed in the Southwest, a mind that came to understand independently what John Wesley Powell had realized half a century earlier, that the watershed is the basic component within the mosaic of watersheds in the arid landscape of the American West.

As scholar Susan Flader points out, “…He (Leopold) was invited to give the John Wesley Powell address to the Southwestern Division of the American Association of Science. He took as his title, ‘The Conservation Ethic’. That was the first published version of what would later, after several other principal addresses over the years, be combined in his seminal article, ‘The Land Ethic’, which is the capstone of A Sand County Almanac…It has seemed to me that his concept of the land ethic grew very much out of his concern for the southwestern watersheds and the problem of soil erosion.”

For generations, America and western culture have been dominated by an economic paradigm founded largely on turning habitat into money. Aldo Leopold came to understand the folly and error of that thinking over sixty years ago. He also came to understand that we as a species are but a single species within the community of life on our planet, and that indeed we are rooted in Nature. At this point in time, it is absolutely imperative that we heed the heart of his message in this final essay from A Sand County Almanac:

“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…Quit thinking about land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise… By and large our present problem is one of attitudes…”

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