Land Ethic Leaders Training – Aldo Leopold Foundation August 9 &10
I had the good fortune to attend the latest Land Ethic Leaders training by the Aldo Leopold Foundation on August 9 & 10 at their Legacy Center Headquarters near Baraboo, WI. I knew this was going to be a special training not just for the content but also for the location and it was an opportunity to work with good friends in a way that we don’t often interact. We started the training by going through an excercise designed to demonstrate the facilitation method we were going to spend the next two days practicing by reading Aldo Leopold’s essay ”Thinking Like a Mountain.” I have read this essay several times but never experienced it in quite the same way.
The essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” by Aldo Leopold is a beautiful and thought provoking piece. It shows an amazing look back – an autobiographical view on the life that Aldo Leopold lived, and a look at his growth, his change in views throughout his life. How the views of a young man, fueled by the knowledge of his time, change as time moves forward, as new knowledge is gained, as perspective of years and experience build. Time is a constant we all deal with- how we grow with, and sometimes apart, from societal views. We live in a time of almost unbelievable technological growth. I wonder, though, was there ever a time that technological growth seemed slow? When we look at things through the lens of our times it can seem as if technological growth did not exist in history. But I find myself wondering what it must have felt like at that particular time. When Aldo lived, when Muir lived, when Thoreau lived – times where changing then too…maybe at what seemed like break-neck speed. After all the growth of civilization, and with it the growth of technology, started not in our times but with the first moments that clans of humans started to wander this earth.
I digress. Not the path I started on, but, as my friends and family know, I tend to wander through life…The path I started on was thinking about this particular essay, and the workshop we were reviewing it in – The Land Ethic Leaders training developed and presented by the Aldo Leopold Foundation. We read this essay to start off the training, reading together and out loud at the beginning of workshop to demonstrate a new facilitation technique. The discussion focused on Leopold’s essay, reflecting on his changing views, his growth, maybe even progress towards a new view. And regret? That is for people far more intelligent and thoughtful than me to decide.
My thoughts here result from a comment, rather a question, from one of those more intelligent and thoughtful people in this workshop (one of many…). The question, posed as the group was discussing the meaning of this timeless piece, came near the end of our reflection time. Near the end of an hour long intellectual and emotional rollercoaster ride, our first trip into this relatively new (at least new to me) facilitation process. One designed to do just exactly that; provide time to reflect on, connect to each other and our own views and beliefs about our Land Ethic.
“Why the “green” fire that burned out as the wolf died?” I found the question intriguing. A wolf does not typically have green eyes, after all. There were a few attempts to answer this question but time was running out for this discussion. Our introductory rollercoaster ride was nearing the end of its hour long journey (one that pushed my thoughts about and, surprisingly to me, my emotional connection with, this particular piece of writing). This was surely a great exercise to demonstrate how powerful this tool can be!
I could not let this question go. It sat with me, still does. I don’t know exactly why. There is, after all, plenty to think about in this essay, not to mention the rest of Leopold’s work leading up to the Land Ethic. There was something in this question, “why green fire?” There has to be some symbolism in “green”, right? This is not necessarily something I spend much time doing (at least not since school) – reflecting deeply on a piece of writing, let alone one word in it… and yet I could not get this question out of my mind. I suspect this question will stay with me for a while…I guess that is one of the points of this workshop: Get people thinking!
Somewhere in the day – I can’t really remember when… This is a recurring theme in my life lately – one that I blame on a 40+ year old brain coupled with multiple responsibilities, some work projects that I put on hold to attend this training, a family, my 2.5 year old son that I can’t stand to miss, my dog that needs walking and my parents watching them both…for the first time at our house… There are many issues here – ones that keep my mind and stomach churning. Who knew when I signed up for this training that Jenny would have a late night meeting too! And who knew that our usual baby-sitter would go off and get a real job! The love of grandparents is an amazing thing for sure, I am just not sure what they remember about me being that age, and how they dealt with it…I am not sure if they know where everything is…we tried to gather everything needed but you never know…and besides, my dad is more likely to make it up than to ask…I am not sure whether what they do remember is reality or a romantic view of the past…
Back to the question! I could not shake it- then it struck me…For as long as I can remember, starting with trips through the back roads of southern Wisconsin, in those days, sitting-or more likely standing-between my grandparents or with my family I always had the same job:
“Keep an eye out for those green eyes, we don’t want to hit a deer!”
I don’t know for sure whether a wolf’s eyes reflect green in the light (some animals don’t) but seeing the green eyes of countless deer and many other animals (including some dogs) I feel I found the symbolism of “green” for this story…at least in my mind. In the essay, Leopold is looking back to this point in history, his history as well as the country’s, and recalling this particular event. Like a light shining on an animal’s eyes in the distance, seeing the old wolf die had a profound effect on him. Like the first glimpse of green as the light first strikes the animal’s eye, at first you don’t know exactly what you are seeing…but with gathering time, and information, a form comes out of the light.
This answer speaks to me at this point in my life. Being the father of a young son who changes almost daily…In the middle of a career that I hope is on track…Living in a place that, although surrounded by beautiful natural resource, is also lonely… At a time where our state and country are so polarized that even good friends and family can find themselves ripped apart at the seams. As I reflect on my life, I see many questions left unanswered:
Can I live here?
Why can’t I live there?
Does my work progress my career goals?
My life goals?
Am I really capable of making the impact I want?
How do you connect people to their surroundings?
To the natural world, or at least what is left of it?
How do we, as a society, as a species, fit in nature?
Why does it all matter?
In my world, the answers over the past two and a half years can be boiled down to one word: Jackson. My hope is that these questions somehow also resonate with others, and, more important that they have an answer that matters to them. This is, after all, the meaning behind my personal mission statement; why I chose the fields of education and natural resources as a vocation…and avocation; why I started this blog in the first place; and, most importantly what I hope to pass on to Jackson.
In my simple-minded view, I think that maybe Aldo Leopold was wrestling with some of these same questions. And, from a retrospective view, the light of his journey shined on a source, the dying wolf’s eyes, reflecting green in the distance. Maybe…
For me, the Land Ethic Leaders training provided an opportunity to develop skills with a new facilitation technique which will help me in my work. It revitalized and re-connected me with my own goals in an inspiring location. And it connected me with new friends on similar missions and that I can learn from. If you are on a similar journey, I highly recommend this training! This, along with many other events can be found on the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s website.