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.
– Aldo Leopold – Thinking Like a Mountain A Sand County Almanac
Aldo Leopold lived in an era when “we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf”. Now we travel a great distance to hear a wild wolf howl and think ourselves fortunate if we do.
Leopold’s Sand County Almanac is a collection of essays that capture the ‘fierce green fire’ in a philosophy that has gone on to influence a generation of environmental awareness. His thinking, once revolutionary, is now a standard measure for relating to the wilderness.
I cannot gather wood and light a fire without recalling Leopold’s essay “Good Oak”:
We mourned the loss of the old tree, but knew that a dozen of its progeny standing straight and stalwart on the sands had already taken over its job of wood-making.
We let the dead veteran season for a year in the sun it could no longer use, and then on a crisp winter’s day we laid a newly filed saw to its bastioned base. Fragrant little chips of history spewed from the saw cut, and accumulated on the snow before each kneeling sawyer. We sensed that these two piles of sawdust were something more than wood: that they were the integrated transect of a century; that our saw was biting its way, stroke by stroke, decade by decade, into the chronology of a lifetime, written in concentric annual rings of good oak. – Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac