Monday, March 2, 2009

A reflection of nature writing

Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac is unquestionably a classic. The commemorative edition I own has both his Almanac and several “Sketches Here and There” that offer a glimpse into his coming of age as a naturalist and nature writer. My favorite passage in the book is the month of “February.” I have added the opening line of that chapter to my Quotes to Live at the sidebar because I firmly believe that this is the inherent problem in the United States today. In “February”, Leopold details the cutting of a grand old oak tree for firewood to heat his home. He cuts this venerable tree with utmost respect and in this chapter he details various events throughout the life of this oak. One of our recent nature readings was in a “rant” about hunters. Even as long ago as 1870 “a market gunner boasted in the American Sportsman of killing 6000 ducks in one season.” “In 1872, the last wild Wisconsin turkey was killed.” “In 1866, the last native Wisconsin elk was killed.” And so it goes through the essay. Leopold says, “The stump yields a collective view of a century.” As he saws through the oak, he gives us facts about the waste and destruction that humans have wrought on the land.

We are so far removed from our food and our sources of heat and light that we take all of that for granted. Saturday night as the month turned over from February to March there was a blackout in El Paso over most of the city and some parts of the county. People panicked. The traffic lights went out and there were numerous fender bender accidents. The blackout happened late at night, not at rush hour or a busy time of day but it gives a hint of how dependent people are on all the devices that rule our lives. We flip a switch and no one thinks about the hills of Kentucky strip mined for more than my lifetime to provide that coal. No one thinks about the fossil fuels that are not renewable to provide that coal. Some make the case for nuclear power plants. Do you want radioactive leftovers dumped in your county? No one does, but they will defend nuclear power over coal. Neither is the simple answer. When I grew up on the farm, I rode the tractor with my father to the edge of the woods to cut trees for winter firewood. We chose dead trees, trees that crowded others and “junk” trees. My job was to load on the wagon the wood I was able to lift. As we saw the wood pile dwindle in the spring, we were aware of every tree that we sweated over in the summer. People have lost that awareness. If you’re cold, turn up the heat. Never mind where it came from. Never mind where it will come from in the future.

Maybe we should start minding.

2 March 2009

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