April 25, 2011

Happy Mon. Nice day here, somewhat pale but likely to lighten up. We had blah weather Sat and very nice Sun, with temp up to about 55. We took advantage of the sunny day to go see the new arrivals at Creamer’s Field refuge—lots of geese, both Canada and White-fronted, some ducks, Sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans—and also to get out the hoses and wash the cars and put up the screen doors. I also swapped the winter tires for summer ones on one car, and the others are getting swapped today at the shop. It must be spring.

We attended an Earth Day showing of a new documentary on the life of Aldo Leopold at UAF Saturday evening. It was sponsored by the US Forest Service and followed by a panel of locals on ways to make Fairbanks more “green.” We are far from places to reuse recycled materials and we use a lot of fossil fuel during the winter, so we’re not especially green. Anyway, the documentary was pretty well done. Leopold virtually invented the concept of game management as it is now practiced. He was a Yale grad in forestry in the early 1900s and rose in the ranks as a smart and practical administrator. He was a lifelong hunter and fisherman who also saw the need to protect habitat
and the diversity of life. The documentary is titled “Green Fire” after a famous passage in Leopold’s essay “Thinking like a Mountain” in which he recounts shooting a wolf for no good reason and then watching the “green fire” in her eyes die. He was a thoughtful person and later came to see this as a moment when he began thinking about ecosystems that we all now take for granted. He was alive when the passenger pigeon, once one of the most numerous birds in America, went extinct through wanton killing. He also witnessed the disaster of the dust storms of the 1930s that resulted from poor soil management by farmers. Later Leopold taught at the University of Wisconsin in
Madison. His book A Sand County Almanac is on the shelf of every literate biologist and ecologist. If you read just one thing by Leopold, read “Thinking Like a Mountain.” If you like that, try, “Wildlife in American Culture” and, perhaps his most challenging and prophetic piece, “The Land Ethic.” These are all at the back of A Sand County Almanac, which in the front part describes the change of seasons at Leopold’s cabin in rural Wisconsin. Leopold was one of the great Americans of the last century.

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