Going Deeper

Expanding the Aldo Zone

…in  two dimensions:

with postscripts & follow-ups to published columns,  footnotes & after-thoughts; deeper view of the human-nature interface & ways of relating with the larger worlds that sustain us….


section from a Leopold pine...

section from a Leopold pine…


Understanding anything involves a combination of our senses, feelings & concepts. Words & related ways of shaping things in the mind can  promote active attention ever renewed with fresh perception. They can also encourage  fuller awareness of a multi-dimensional world that includes the engaged witness who notices, feels, thinks & more–is part of life beyond the self.

Conservation awareness grows mainly from direct & personal experience  of “ecological values,” an abstraction derived from concrete experience first. To understand abstractions like natural beauty, health, vitality, biodiversity, resilience, we must draw from direct experience of what’s represented, which includes the presumably objective world observed as if externally, along with effects personally observed in ourselves; connections realized; implications drawn; & conceptions emerged from collaborative contemplations across time.

Some understanding of awareness–what it is, its qualities, levels, types, & methods for extending–is as basic as some understanding of nature. Like most abilities, ranges of awareness develop with use, practice, exchange, additional perspective, intentional inquiry. Looking in ways that seek to understand more fully can become ingrained, progressive & cumulative, continuously renewing the journey of discovery.

The experience of looking & attempts to describe what is are partners  for scientist, manager, artist, thinker, &/or friend of the world.  Encouraging appreciation of ecological systems enhances personal experience for oneself & others. Whether we are talking of Aldo Leopold, Yours Crudely, or you, personal effort to see what is & the possibility of contributing to the shared level of awareness in the world are complementary aims. The same goes for our sense of being in this together & the satisfaction of passing along a share of what’s been given, all part of the mix & motive.

Not wanting to waste your time or mine, I won’t try to cover all the ground, not even most, not even much where technical expertise is involved, leaving those aspects to the specialists (i.e., people who know what they’re talking about). Even a technical ignoramus may develop some multi-dimensional awareness in contemplation over time, especially when exposed to the multi-dimensional awareness of others.

Where learning is concerned, one’s journey from relative ignorance can be all the more useful to those in earlier stages of starting out, providing a model of the trail that led to more complete understanding. Some explorations may have more likely value to readers than others, though even the least had value to the writer for being made, even if never uploaded. Others may go up before being ready, their values (if any) brought out more clearly only later, with editing prompted by re-reading.

Here’s a first chapter on a few FUNDAMENTALS OF CONSERVATION, starting with one of its core elements: Awareness, without which where are we?


Maybe CHAPTER TWO should be on “Knowledge as power: shaping tools to uses (leveraging the mind).” All tools leverage power, the potential to effect. The mind is a tool-making tool, a Swiss Army Knife with many functionalities (& potential dysfunctionalities). The cutting edge is where perception meets language.

If perception starts with pure awareness, it is quickly shaped by the language learned for organizing the world. Knowledge, too, starts with language, the word, concept, idea & category, around which observations (one’s own & others) may aggregate. Levels or kinds of knowledge develop with more or less corresponding levels of understanding, knowing not just more information, for example, but ways of looking informed by an expanded sense of the dynamic connections, processes, and implications of what’s at work. These in turn make wiser management, policies and practices possible.

Language matters in terms of what is observed as well as what is reported, helping us choose our terms & inform our practice. Trying simply to report what is, original existence, living nature, the human mind, we are always working with what may be called understanding in translation. On the one hand are the realities; on the other, representations, seemingly quite a different thing, though representations also have their own realities, while realities include fictions and delusions.  

“The coherence of human language is inseparable from …the surrounding ecology…the expressive vitality of the more than human terrain. It is the animate earth that speaks; human speech is but a part of that discourse.” –David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Modern humans have developed a terrible power to drown out all but the noise of their machines, amplifying the screech level beyond the eardrum-shatter & Charles Munch “Scream,” whether by weapons of mass catastrophe, in the maws of the devouring beast, or as inadvertent by-product of scale and overwhelming level of traffic.

Nor are there antidotes beside self-renewal at the original fount, listening to what the water has to say, & the storm, if only to clarify our hearing. There’s no way to kill the beast that now also sustains us, even as we identify aspects with enmity to life, including our own. That means not feeding its worst, however, as our only choice left is to transform it.

Rachel Carson didn’t propose the end of chemistry or industry, only reasonable safeguards that put health and life first. Aldo Leopold didn’t propose the end of grazing,  just the reverse in a sense, in limiting it to what a healthy range can sustain. Respect for such limits is part of one’s stake in the longer term.

Pioneers of conservation were simply among the first to respond to the emerging dilemmas, including the rapidly escalating power of the machines to destroy all that sane people hold most dear in city and country alike. They saw that human systems could inadvertently make such destruction profitable, or even necessary, as in the bombing of others to protect ourselves, or building ever more roads & toilets to accommodate the increasing crowds driving out to enjoy remnants of nature.

A century ago, various waves of social consciousness came together as if from a collective immune system. One wave sought for both practical & ethical reasons to impose a utilitarian & functional reason on what were otherwise unsustainable & wasteful practices that might enrich a few currently at the expense of impoverishing many, including future generations. Another saw the threat in more artistic & spiritual terms, the effects wild country had on feelings & the human spirit.

Having experienced all of these for himself, Leopold articulated another basis for setting some wild areas aside to remain without roads & human machinery, namely as scientific controls of how natural systems functioned when so managed, including how they sounded…. Otherwise, the more rare wild places became, the more crowds would flock to them, meaning more roads & toilets, meaning the less wild they would become or sound….

“The song of a river may ordinarily be thought of as the sounds that water makes on rock and root and rapids…audible to any ear that stops long enough to pay attention. But there is other music here, too, not heard by all. On a still night, when the campfire is low and the Pleiades have climbed the rimrocks, we may sit quietly and listen until we hear it–a vast pulsing harmony, its score inscribed on a thousand hills, its notes the lives of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning seconds and centuries….” –Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

[“That’s’a some listening!” –Harpo, as interpreted by Chico]


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