Late last Friday, I discovered that the first week in March celebrates Aldo Leopold, the American author, environmentalist, and philosopher. I sat down to explore how the famed conservationist wrote about sound. Yet I found my fingers balking at the keys. My memory circles the personal impact of a man who’s words on wildlife and wildness thread through my own life. Recalling his significance to me, self-doubt persuades that I cannot possibly do justice to one of America’s most renowned ecologists and nature writers.
Then, after a little digging and reflection, I am reminded that Leopold’s land ethic is born of humility. Leopold wrote of the need to humble ourselves before natural systems of complexity and nuance and grace beyond comprehension. It seems fitting to quiet my mind and offer a small homage to an author who put words to our obligations to the majesty that is life on earth.
There is a passage from A Sand County Almanac that fit into my heart from first read and reverberates whenever I have occasion to contemplate the wild. As a young man in the Forest Service in the Southwest, Leopold shot into a pack of wolves:
Leopold’s fierce green fire is a moment of regret and redemption, vulnerability and compassion, kinship and divergence. Throughout his Thinking Like a Mountain essay, the wolf appears as a guide in the evolution of Leopold’s thinking on top predators and ecological systems. And Leopold wrote of listening to Canis lupus as much as observing them visually:
Audio credit: “Grey Wolves, 8-Mile Pack” NPS/Jennifer Jerrett, hosted by Acoustic Atlas.
Leopold’s descriptions of wolf howls are rooted in the relational; he writes of the auditory experience empathically:
And in solidarity with the community of life:
And with humility in recognition of the smallness of our stature:
I said that Leopold threads through my life: as a southwestern child amidst the Bring Back the Lobo campaign; as an undergraduate student studying natural resource policy and state wolf management in particular; and as an adult who didn’t so much move to Montana as immigrate to wolf country. Wolves or their absence have always been with me. Perhaps Aldo Leopold’s words resonate with me simply due to exposure – his works experienced a resurgence that neatly overlaps my lifespan. I am sure that I owe my love and curiosity for wolves in no small part to Aldo Leopold. Yet I think he would maintain that he simply put words to a universal connection:
In Song of the Gavilan, another essay in A Sand County Almanac, Leopold answers what might be the most important question of all: how do we hear secrets whispered between wolves and mountains? The answer, of course, is to still ourselves and listen:
It is a tall order to live in Leopold’s landscapes: to immerse ourselves in simple living in an untrammeled place. But we can still look up to the Pleiades:
And listen to the howl of a wolf:
Audio credit: “Wolf howling, Lamar Valley” NPS/Jennifer Jerrett, hosted by Acoustic Atlas.
And think hard of everything we have seen and tried to understand.
You can listen to more wolf howls via the Acoustic Atlas. You can hear an inspiring vignette about wolves breaking the silence in Yellowstone National Park in Winter Wolves, an audio postcard produced by Yellowstone National Park.
“Grey Wolves, 8-Mile Pack” and “Wolves howling, Lamar Valley” public domain audio recorded by NPS/Jennifer Jerrett, hosted by the Acoustic Atlas. “Meteor at the Pleiades” photo credit Luis Argerich used in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License 2.0. “Alpha male (712) of the Canyon pack in the Lower Geyser Basin” photo credit Jim Peaco/NPS.