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Think Like a Mountain

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…  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.” – Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

We all have favorite writers who take our breath away.  I’ve quoted a few of my favorites frequently in this blog, but not as much Aldo Leopold as I should.  Can you read the passage above and not be breathless at the prose?  Not if you have green fire in your own eyes.  I’ve been trying to think like a mountain since I first read A Sand County Almanac in college, but I find that when you grind away at life too long, stay in too many hotels, endure too many long drives and time in airports, spend too much time in business-speak meetings, and focus a bit too much on your net income the green fire fades.  I’m finding my way back again.

Writing every day teaches you things about yourself.  I highly recommend it if you aren’t doing it yet yourself.  I thought I heard the call to write and so I wrote, but until I started publishing something of substance every day I didn’t really understand.  Understand the process of disciplined writing.  Understand the formation of thoughts and quotes and observations and molding it into your own creation that you nurture and place gently into the world, whether it’s perfect yet or not.  Blogging isn’t writing a novel, with an editor and time to get just the right phrasing down.  You ship every day no matter what.  No expectations of glory or financial gain or viral explosions of followers, but because it matters to you that its out there.  And its transformative: You’d rarely hear me sorting things out in casual conversation the way I write about it in this blog.  I wrote yesterday about taking on too much and working to simplify things.  That’s my own version of trimming the herd to fit the range.  I just happened to publish it for all to see.

Aldo Leopold died a week after hearing that A Sand County Almanac was going to be published.  He was only 61 at the time, and had no idea how much his book would resonate and influence generations of people.  He simply created it and gave it to the world, perhaps hopeful it would gain an audience.  He would have been amazed at how transformative his work was for the environment and for those who fight for it. Teaching generations how to think like a mountain.  It’s his enduring gift to the world.  We never really know what can happen if we just put ourselves out there, do we?


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