Dear Dirty America


In Wildness Is the Salvation of the World

March 14
15:00 2012
Los Angeles

Aldo Leopold Thinking Like A Mountain:

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades.

So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time.

A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men (p. 140-1).

Leopold respectfully shows us how connected life on earth is, and how every action has a consequence. Do we all strive for dullness? I suppose so. At least most of us try to avoid chaos and drop into a regular routine.

We fight and push for what’s recognizable, and in that familiarity there must be trust lurking. Something to hold onto — a routine, a belief system, an ethical code, a philosophy. Something to make us forget we’re only visitors on this earth for a very short time, and then it is off to somewhere else, or nowhere at all (whatever you like to believe).

In wildness is the salvation of the world. When systems within systems can interact and play out as they must, but without the play of man? Is man outside that system of wildness? Is there a rift between nature and man? Or is man an inherent part?

If so, it seems most of us don’t function very well in the natural world. It seems like we cause more devastation than salvation. Is our push for dullness ultimately a destructive way to push out the turbulent natural world to create “peace in our time”?

Do we need to go back to thinking like mountains? Or maybe thinking like an integral part of a very complex world organism? Maybe the planet is sending distress signals to the sun, and the sun is now in an uproar, sending intense solar flares our way to cleanse the planet of its infestation.

Does the planet live in mortal fear of humans, as every stick of wood is chopped apart or ground up, every river polluted, and the air stuffed with smoke and chemicals, car exhaust and noxious gases? Do we need to start thinking like a planet?

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