Thursday, May 5, 2011
Thinking About Thinking Like A Mountain by Curt Meine
I’m in my office today at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, just a mile or so from Aldo Leopold’s iconic “shack” in Wisconsin. We have just concluded our staff meeting, a good portion of which was spent swapping stories about screening our new documentary film Green Fire. Various representatives of the Leopold Foundation have been fanning out to participate in screenings that are occurring across the country (and even overseas). Every place, and every audience, is different. But it is also fascinating to discover the common threads in our conversations.
The title of the film, of course, comes from “Thinking Like A Mountain” and Leopold’s youthful experience in seeing “a fierce green fire” in the eyes of the dying mother wolf that he had shot. In examining Leopold’s life and the continuing evolution of the land ethic, the film explores the history of that particular experience, and of the multiple potential meanings of the phrase. Along the way, we interviewed two special colleagues who remarked upon the phrase “green fire.” Peter Forbes (whom I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog) comments in the film: “In that one essay, that one moment when he saw the green fire, that was a transformational moment in his individual life. And it also suggests the transformational moment in our movement if we are willing to change ourselves.” And N. Scott Momaday, the eminent Kiowa writer and poet, remarks: “We all have the essence of the fierce green fire, that’s again our hope.”
My colleague Dr. Stan Temple mentioned in our meeting that, at a recent screening of the film in Idaho, staunch opponents and proponents of wolves were both present in the audience (as, no doubt, were many who are somewhere in the middle). In at least some of the conversations Stan had, the film seemed to provide a bit of a buffer zone in the pitched debate over wolf conservation and management. By illustrating Leopold’s experience with the green fire, we hoped that we could show that these are not simple or purely partisan political issues, but complicated matters of evolving conservation science, ethics, policies, and practice. So my questions for the day: What is the “transformation” and “change” we need to make in the conservation movement? What is the “essence of the green fire”? What meaning do you find in Leopold’s phrase? Is it possible in today's harsh political landscape to find common ground? What will it take?
[Editor's Note: See also the Forest Service's podcasts about the film Green Fire. Steve Dunsky speaks about how Leopold’s vision ties in with the evolving perspective of the Forest Service]