The message of mountains in a time of small thinking

Think like a mountain, Aldo Leopold exhorted us 68 years ago in A Sand County Almanac. But how does a mountain think, I wondered one recent peaceful morning in Acadia National Park, as I climbed Brown Mountain (elevation: 852 feet)?

  • You call that a mountain, my western friend asks?
  • Well, we do start up at sea level, I reply.

Leopold was writing particularly about the devastating effects of our fervor to eradicate wolves without understanding the critical role they play in the health of the ecosystem and so in the fate of the mountain. It is in this short essay that Leopold, a rapacious hunter, reaches a wolf he has shot just in time to “watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes . . . there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain.”

But there’s more to the story than the physical role wolves play in culling deer and preserving the mountain’s forests. In a time when small minds speak stridently and without care and ordinary people struggle to cope in a world blundering toward madness, there is something restorative in the grandeur of the mountains, even the small ones here, a spirit that counsels endurance – and promises that the time will come again when we will be able to distinguish the noble howl of Aldo Leopold’s wolf, “long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men,” from the yelps, in the words of Pablo Neruda, of “jackals that a jackal would reject.”

James G. Blaine

About James G. Blaine

Most of us undervalue what seem our tiny contributions to our communities and the world. As a result, we feel powerless, even victimized. But, like the butterfly effect in science, the lives we lead with our families, in our communities, and at work – all the so-called little things we do – collectively change the world. As I grow older, my ambition grows more modest but not less important: to participate fully and to contribute what I can. That’s my goal with this blog.