Saturday, October 5, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 165: Aldo Leopold, Letters to Estella (#186)

Aldo Leopold, "Letters to Estella" (1917, 1926) from Aldo Leopold: A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Ecology and Conservation:

Our second and possibly last Aldo Leopold sample (after this one), today's "Story of the Week" is actually two letters from Aldo to his wife Estella: the first is about rescuing a guy who went missing in the Grand Canyon area; the second is about visiting a logging camp. Neither is quite as passionate or pointed as his lecture on how professors are teaching natural history wrong, but both get at something interesting about our relationship to the environment.

For instance, when Aldo goes into the Canyon to rescue a guy, he finds him so weak from dehydration that they have to strap him to the one mule that was able to navigate the windy path. And at the same time, Aldo gives an entire paragraph over to the beauty of the landscape, with the additional note that people who stay up on the top of the Canyon fail to see it. That's barely paraphrased: after rescuing the guy, Aldo's group goes back
to the dudes who sit up here and think they see the Canyon, but don’t.
"Dudes" here probably doesn't mean "guys" but more like "wimp, dandy, city slicker." (See Twain's description of the obsessed narcissistic knights of King Arthur's court as "Iron Dudes" in Connecticut Yankee.) To Aldo, the real way to observe nature is to go deep into it--literally in the case of the Grand Canyon.

For Aldo, the logging camp brings up similar questions, in two ways. On one hand, when he observes the loggers and the trees, he wonders if the loggers can really appreciate the nature all around them. His answer: I don't know, maybe:
By this time it has turned cool and the thrushes are singing deep in the woods that wall the camp. I don’t suppose many of these men hear them, but who knows? The hearers of thrushes may wear hobnails as well as long hair.
That might seem dismissive; but compared to his treatment of the dudes who miss the Grand Canyon, it's pretty generous.

Aldo also notes how the city slicker doesn't get this experience of nature--or in this case, the experience of natural resources being harvested: 
The city man who buys a truckload of lumber has no idea of what goes into it.
City man, dudes, loggers, long hairs--Aldo Leopold knows that the future of American conservancy depends on the Americans who either experience it and can understand its beauty; or who never see it for what it really is.

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