Sunday, April 1, 2007

in praise of the land


this morning on npr was a story of wisconsin's annual celebration of the great aldo leopold (1887-1948). the story was a felicitous complement to the morning's activity of watching spring 'in action' in the backyard - the migrating warblers flitting about the trees and the return of our neighboring chipmunk, now awake from a long winter snooze.

similarly to rachel carson, aldo leopold possessed the ability to integrate a scientist's understanding of the natural world and a philosopher's gift for language with a deep love for the land and humankind. this morning's broadcast mentioned aldo's land ethic treatise. the story took me back thirty years to the first time I read A Sand County Almanac and how important I felt the lessons in that book were. in today's age of global warming, dwindling resources, and hyper-consumption the wisdom and call of leopold's land ethic is only magnified.

now that I'm back into my 'at home' routines this means a sunday posting meditation-worthy on 'the mouse' - with this in mind, I'd like to share a bit of aldo's wisdom:

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worth-less, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves...

One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value. Wildflowers and songbird are examples...

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...

It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense.


All quotes from: Aldo Leopold A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There, 1948, Oxford University Press
picture: amish farm, ohio july, 2006

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