Thoughts on “Thinking Like a Mountain”

Thinking Like a MountainRecently, while comparing educational pursuits with another returning college student who is seeking teaching licensure in literature, I conveyed my aspirations of redirecting my career in the outdoors and environmental industry beyond a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative and Professional Writing and a Bachelor of Science degree in History at Bemidji State University.  Aspirations that include pursuing a writing and educating career in some aspect of the outdoors and environment in order to fulfill my personal ambition to “leave something behind” when I am no longer a physical presence in this world, something to show that I have done my part to contribute to the betterment of society.

By this, the co-ed asked if my inspirations included Aldo Leopold.  Embarrassed to admit that I was only slightly familiar with the name and what it stood for, not the man and his work, I deflected his inquisition to what my experience included, the work I was doing now, and where I hoped that would lead me.

A recent reading assignment of the essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” by Aldo Leopold for my People and the Environment course provided the opportunity to research and the life long work of Aldo Leopold, the forester, ecologist, conservationist, environmentalist, philosopher, educator, writer, fisherman, hunter, and outdoor enthusiast.

Leopold is considered by many to be the father of wildlife management and of the United States’ wilderness system.  His life’s work was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness preservation.  His introduction at The Aldo Leopold Foundation website begins with this quote:

“As a society, we are just now beginning to realize the depth of Leopold’s work and thinking.”

– Mike Dombeck, Chief Emeritus U.S. Forest Service, Professor of Global Environmental Management UW-Stevens Point, UW System Fellow of Global Conservation

In Leopold’s greatest written work, and the culmination of his life’s work, A Sand County Almanac, completed just prior to his death in 1948 and published postmortem, he wrote “The Land Ethic”, a chapter where he lays out his conservation plan for the human culture.  Under the Community Concept of this land ethic, Leopold wrote:

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

…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 “Thinking Like a Mountain,” we are offered a view of a precursor to Leopold’s land ethic.  A profound moment in his life when he realizes the value of a community that includes the land, and the tragic consequences that occur when any component of that community is severed, lost, or no longer permitted to exist. 

Leopold demonstrates through his own experience the recognition of changing mindset.  The wolf as a member of the land, the natural world, must persist for the good of the overall quality of life on this planet.  The example of his killing the wolf and ultimately his realization of what has become of the wilderness without it shares the knowledge learned through the act of recklessness and disregard for the delicate balance in the ecosystem.

In short, he is warning society not to duplicate this reckless disregard on a global scale.  Our culture owes an ethical responsibility to the place that gives us life.