Sunday, December 11, 2011

We Dream of the Arctic in December 2011

As our globe warms, the Arctic as we once knew it is fast becoming a dream of time past. This month I'm thrilled to announce that we delve into Arctic Dreams as delivered by the prolific and much honored author Barry Lopez. Arctic Dreams won the 1986 National Book Award and is considered his masterpiece.

From the publisher: "Lopez offers a thorough examination of this obscure world-its terrain, its wildlife, its history of Eskimo natives and intrepid explorers who have arrived on their icy shores. But what turns this marvelous work of natural history into a breathtaking study of profound originality is his unique meditation on how the landscape can shape our imagination, desires, and dreams. Its prose as hauntingly pure as the land it describes, Arctic Dreams is nothing less than an indelible classic of modern literature."

Bill Moyer's Interview with Barry Lopez:

Review excerpts : "Jubilant....Barry Lopez lavishes his discoveries into a portfolio of delights." The New York Times Book Review "Wonderfully informed and evocative....Keen observation given shape with language that is deft and vivid." Chicago Tribune "Rich, abundant, vigorously composed." The Boston Globe "[It is the earth's] synchronous wealth of life — of all life — that Barry Lopez is celebrating in his jubilant new book. Among contemporary nature writers Mr. Lopez is especially a rhapsodist, and what he has done in this passionate paean to the Arctic and its cycles of light and darkness, its species of ice, its creatures and waters, is to present a whole series of raptures and riffs on the subject of musk oxen, ivory gulls, white foxes, polar bears, icebergs and sea currents..." New York Times Book Review

Author website:
NOAA Arctic site:
We meet in January to share our impressions. Stay tuned for time and place.

Member Review: Reason For Hope

Member Joy Pardue contributed a report on our discussion in October 2011. Thank you Joy!:

PVNWG members thoroughly enjoyed Jane Goodall’s autobiographical Reason for Hope , our selection for the October, 2011 meeting. After a slow start the story quickly came to life when Ms Good all began portraying the chimpanzees of Gumbo. Here her writing became engaging, her mission more intriguing, and her multifaceted interests more evident.
Dr. Good all is no ordinary scientist. Indeed, she had little formal education when she began her groundbreaking research in Africa - Louis Leaky chose her, in part, for this very reason and this unconventional approach probably paid off better than he dreamed. Goodall’s efforts have not only advanced scientific knowledge, but have provided substantial benefits directly to chimpanzees and other animals worldwide.
During her 20 years at Gombe, Jane focused her keen powers of observation onto these chimps and discovered totally unexpected characteristics and behaviors. Her shocking account that these wild beings were making and properly using tools promptly elicited harsh criticism from fellow scientists who had been more formally trained. Furthermore, without ‘proper’ training – and, thus, not knowing better - Jane ‘named’ her subjects and ascribed to them ‘personalities’ and ‘emotions’. This brought additional censure but she was neither perturbed nor deterred. Jane knew what she had witnessed and stood resolute as critics tried to discredit her. Today, the validity of her reports endure.
Throughout her story, Jane weaves her musings, feelings, mystical experiences and questions about religion which includes some of her poetry along with a generous sprinkling of scripture. “Solitude” was one of the many gifts of those years in the forest and she treasured this as an “unparalleled period when aloneness was a way of life”. An entire chapter is devoted to this phase which lead to a deeper appreciation of the beauty and magic of nature. One comment, in particular, caught our attention: “In particular I became intensely aware of the being-ness of trees.”
Jane is one of those rare scientists who retains compassion for her subjects and looks beyond the project at hand. Seeing the threats the chimps were facing as their world changed, she eventually expanded her mission from researcher to spokesperson.
Despite being far from home for extended periods, Jane remained devoted to her family. All of us were surprised to learn that her Mother came to Africa to be with Jane during those early years at Gombe mainly because it wasn’t proper for a young woman to be alone in that era. This arrangement worked well for them and the surrounding community as Vanne took on responsibilities that were helpful to the locals. Other family members appear in the story at appropriate times and Jane highlights them with love and admiration.
Who could have imagined where Jubilee – a large stuffed chimpanzee – that her father gave her when she was one year old would ultimately lead her. Encouraged by her mother and grandmother, Jane dreamed big and became ‘one of the fortunate few’ who realized those dreams. That Jane, who will soon to be an octogenarian, continues working on behalf of Planet Earth and all inhabitants is heartening and uplifting. Members in attendance agreed with Cheryl’s suggestion that we ought to consider more autobiographies in the future.

We Grok Goodall

The Oxford English Dictionary defines grok as "to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with" and "to empathise or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment." (Author Robert A. Heinlein coined the term in his best-selling 1961 book Stranger in a Strange Land. )

In A Reason for Hope Jane Goodall describes her early enchantment with nature and the interwining of science and spirit that has driven her life work. Seeking a disciple with an unprejudiced eye, Louis Leakey chose Jane because of her lack of credentials, driving curiosity, and chutzpah that had brought her from England to Africa hoping to "work with animals." Jane's approach to the task he set for her was an anomaly in the world of ethology fieldwork at that time. Instead of assigning numbers to her chimpanzee subjects she gave them names that suited their personalities and behaviors. She used her (dare I say womanly?) powers of empathy as a tool to unravel the mysteries of primate social psychology. In retrospect, her approach seems supremely logical--the relational world of human primates is remarkably similar to that of our chimp cousins (our DNA varies only a few percentage points). But at the time of her first foray into research, Goodall was a quiet maverick, considered a laughable amateur by the scientific hierarchy. As her book makes clear, Jane "groks" nature in all its forms, including the experience of being human. Retired from field work, she now tirelessly campaigns for mistreated chimpanzees worldwide who suffer as discarded or neglected zoo and research animals. Her Roots and Shoots program promotes appreciation for nature among children. Everywhere she goes, audiences are electrified by her insight, kindness, and sense of humor.
Jane's intimate connection with nature and concern for our singular planet resonated in different ways with our members, but certainly produced a harmonious chord. Jane's Reason for Hope is the evidence she sees that our "better angels" exist within and will eventually lead us to live in harmony with creation. If Jane Goodall is any indication of human potential, there is indeed Reason for Hope. May we all be inspired by her example.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Barbara Hurd NOVEMBER 2011 AUTHOR

In November 2011 author Barbara Hurd leads our group on a virtual tour of Entering the Stone, her collection of essays on caves and confronting the unknown. Here is the authors official website:

The Diane Rehm Show on Entering the Stone:

“In this profound and beautifully written exploration of caves and caving, Barbara Hurd describes not only her initiation into the stony earth but also the full range of human depths. Geology and spiritual discovery in this book are one, the evolution of Hurd’s knowledge of stalactites and sightless cave fish inseparable from her encounter with fear and mystery, invisibility and intimacy, Eros and grief, life and death. Entering the Stone is a masterpiece of the interior world.”--Jane Hirshfield

We meet to discuss our experience of Hurd's work on December 3. If you wish to join us, please email for directions.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jane Goodall REASON FOR HOPE October 2011

We meet on October 30, 2011 at a member's home to discuss Jane Goodall's work Reason for Hope. To me she is one of the few persons living who match (or even exceed) John Muir's legacy as a sort of environmental saint. Some years ago, I was honored to hear Dr. Goodall lecture at the National Geographic Society and thrilled to meet her at the book signing afterward. She exudes a timeless inner peace and wisdom, along with a mischievious sense of humor.

At the book signing, just as my companion and I were about to step up to the table after a long wait in line, a woman bustled up with a suited man in tow. She rudely pushed in front of us to introduce the man to Dr. Goodall. It was evident that she believed this gentleman was so important that her behavior was excusable. Jane graciously shook his hand and they just as quickly went away. She then turned to us and met my eyes.

Her eyes were twinkling and she had that slight smile one sees so often in her photographs. In that instant, she said volumes. Having spent decades studying aggression and hierarchy among the chimpanzees, she was quite obviously amused at this display of familiar primate behavior. So I smiled back in acknowledgment of what we had just observed among our own species and we proceeded with having our copy of her book inscribed.

I look forward to our discussion. New participants may attend as a current member's guest or email for more information.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

SUMMER READ: Mountains of the Heart

Scott Weidensaul's Mountains of the Heart is our SUMMER READ selection. We will inaugurate our 2011-2012 season on September 25 with an appreciation of this book and it's subject, the natural history and ecology of the Appalachian Mountains. (Time and place to be announced.) To link to the Pulitizer Prize nominated author's gorgeous website click here. Click on the book cover at left for a summary of the book.


Our picnic to cap off the 2010-2011 season fell on a beautiful spring evening. Our potluck repast sweetened our savoring of Bernd Heinrich's Summer World, followed by a preview of La Casita, the new nature center, and a walk in the wood to admire a variety of fecund ferns.

Summing up Summer World is difficult to do. So much fascination is packed into each page. Some of us liked this book better than the author's Winter World. It was easier for us to relate to his description of summer phenomena which are comparable to our mid-atlantic region versus his exploration of what happens in the long, frigid winter in the north country of Maine. However, Heinrich never fails to inspire with his laser-like focus on details and his ability to construct brilliant experiments to answer his never-ceasing questions about "What would happen if?" and "Why?" Nothing in nature is outside of his scope: the immersion of spring leaves and buds, insect and mammal behaviors, and so on. He is exemplary in his intimacy with the natural world-- it is a daily immersion by which he measures his existence.

Also inspirational is his skill in documenting his experiences and thought processes in words and drawings that allow us to learn along with him. When we read Heinrich we are learning how to observe, how to think about what we observe and how we might create the same types of experiences for ourselves. And how we might document them in a similar fashion to share with others! In fact, I would like to challenge our PVNWG members (or anyone reading Heinrich and this blog) to come up with a personal Heinrich-like study or experiment this summer, and write/draw to document your process and results. And of course email your work to and I will post it on our REFLECTIONS page! The goal is to try out the observation and documenting process, so if you are at all intimidated or need a boost of encouragement, remind yourself to keep it simple.

We reconvene book discussion meetings in September 2011--to pay homage to our summer read: Scott Weidensaul's Mountains of the Heart.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Heinrich's SUMMER WORLD Seasons May 2011

Our May 2011 selection is SUMMER WORLD by Bernd Heinrich. Heinrich is the first author to be honored for a second time by PVNWG. We read his WINTER WORLD previously. See here.
To read the introduction to Summer World and listen to a radio interview with the author, click here. Our 2010-2011 seasons ends with our Summer World discussion on May 22 while we enjoy a celebratory picnic at Maryland's Greenbrier State Park.


Four busy members folded their wings for a few hours to rate John Himmelman's guide to Discovering Moths. Host joy served us sparkling cranberry juice whilst our imaginations circled round these fascinating night-time 'jewels.'

Moth enthusiast Cheryl brought a collection of moth specimens and Vicki the "fishdoc" shared a Sphinx moth cocoon she found while clearing her garden for spring. Check out one of Cheryl's blog posts on moths here. Member comments:

Diane Sylvester: Himmelman sounds like a fun guy and I'd love to attend one of his moth trail events. While much of the book has been easy reading, I would like to have seen drawings or photos of the moths on the pages where he was discussing them to make them more intimate. I found the drawings a little dark to discern much detail(or is it my eyes?) but there needed to be more of them. I have a end wall of my house that attracts many moths and I have photographed many of them. Using this book, I have identified some moths in my photographs. I have the W.J. Holland book Himmelman references and I also find it extremely difficult to use since the moths I see are in their natural poses, not the specimen poses I find in that book. Based on Himmelman's recommendation, I will probably try to locate Charles Covell's book A Field Guide to the Moths of Eastern North America. Moths are a very complicated subject and as he said, it doesn't get the press that butterflies do.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


OUR AUTHOR FOR APRIL 2011 is John Himmelman and we are reading his Discovering Moths: Nightime Jewels in Your Own Backyard. From the back cover: Moths offer an incredible variety of color, form, behavior, and ecological significance, but since most of them are active at night, we are often simply unaware of them. John Himmelman opens our eyes, showing how moth watching can offer as much beauty and fascination as birding.In lively, accessible prose, he explains the intricacy of moths' life cycle, their importance in nature, and how just a tiny handful of the many moth species are truly pests to humans. He tells how to attract moths with lights and bait, when and where to observe them, and how best to photograph these tiny subjects. Entertaining personal anecdotes and short profiles of some of the country's foremost "mothers" add human interest. Illustrated with the author's own superb pen-and-ink illustrations and spectacular close-up photographs of moths found in the eastern U.S., this book will be of interest not only to nature enthusiasts, but also to parents, birders, butterfly aficionados, and anyone interested in the outdoors. John Himmelman is the author of numerous books and articles on nature subjects. A cofounder of the Connecticut Butterfly Association, he has lectured and led field trips throughout the US. "My interest in moths probably evolved along with my tendency to stay up at night," he says. "The fact that I could find hundreds of different kinds in my own yard, and that I find their form, function, and beauty a marvel, helped make them an obsession."
Click on his photo to peruse his website and read his self-penned biography. On his website there are links to his photos of moths and amphibians, and information about his other books.


Our group discussed John McPhee's Encounters with the Archdruid on March 27, 2011. Here is a report by member Joy Pardue:

Having never delved deeply into the realm of ancient religions, I had only a vague notion of the definition of ‘archdruid’. Druids are defined as those who “worship the forces of nature by means of meditation, prayer and celebration of the Earth.…” Thus, John McPhee bestows the title of “Archdruid” onto David Brower while one of his adversaries lumps David (and all conservationists) with druids and dismisses them as people who “worshiped trees and sacrificed people”.

In this absorbing book, McPhee orchestrates meetings between David Brower and three impressive, driven professionals whose ambitions – as far as David Brower is concerned – are anathema to the well being of the planet and its inhabitants. These encounters are set in some of the most scenic regions of our country. “The Mountain” refers to the Cascade Mountains where McPhee arranges a trek which includes Brower, geologist Charles Park and two medical students. Brower and Parks debate the economic advantages versus the natural and esthetic losses of copper mining is this pristine setting. “The Island” hosts a meeting between Brower and real estate developer Charles Fraser who was proudly transforming picturesque Cumberland Island into an extravagant resort. “The River” section covers a rafting trip down the Colorado River and a visit to Glen Canyon Dam. Floyd Dominy, US Commissioner of Reclamation, who built this and many other dams, is an outspoken critic of conservationists and as determined to have it his way as David Brower is.

A passage in this chapter illustrates McPhee’s ability to record opposing views clearly and concisely – with a touch of humor. He quotes Dominy as saying “Reclamation is the father of putting water to work for man – irrigation, hydropower, flood control, recreation. Let’ s use our environment. Nature changes the environment every day of our lives – why shouldn’t we change it. Diametrically opposed, conservationists think “there is something special about dams, something – as conservation problems go – that is disproportionately and metaphysically sinister. The outermost circle of the Devil’s world seems to be a moat filled mainly with DDT…and so on past phalanxed bulldozers and bicuspid chain saws into the absolute epicenter of Hell on earth, where stands a dam.”

In each setting, McPhee faithfully records the dialogue, discourse and the many disagreements between Brower and his foil. In the telling, Brower comes to life as a naturalist practically on par with John Muir, an intrepid mountaineer, a passionate defender of the planet and the seriously successful executive director of the Sierra Club where he was revered as a “poet, naturalist and politician” amongst the rank and file. (or “ the membership”).

For twenty years, Brower served the Sierra Club “brilliantly…magnificently”, growing it from a “small, local organization…into a major national and international force in the conservation movement.” In time, as Brower became more powerful and his methods became more controversial, he alienated and infuriated many members of the Board of Directors – enough to have him ousted. Even Ansel Adams’ vote was “Anti-Brower”. Lending truth to the member’s observation: “There is no love-hate like the love-hate that exists among mountaineers.”

Our PVNWG members rated this book highly and agreed that McPhee maintained a fairly neutral stance in depicting these strong, single-minded characters. He records their interactions with neither commentary nor criticism It isn’t easy to determine where his sympathies lie as he records these communications and relationships without commentary or judgment. Perhaps McPhee’s primary goal is to be well informed and to inform others. What a creative way to learn: bring together the archdruid and his archenemies (so to speak) and take notes as they debate the subject. On site of the area in dispute!

In the process we learn something about geology, the extraction industry and the laws – or lack thereof – pertaining to these corporations. We are privy to behind-the-scenes people and politics that make or break dreams and schemes. We’re among the very few who are privy to the inner workings of a dam. And we enjoy the vicarious pleasure of rafting through the Grand Canyon. All of which give us glimpses of the world David Brower saw, loved and appreciated. “Archdruid” may not be considered an altogether complimentary term, but I think McPhee chose it as a tribute to David Brower – a fitting title for this dedicated devotee of Planet Earth.

Brower photo via

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


John McPhee was the March 2011 author. Our main reading selection is his 1971 work Encounters with the Archdruid but members should feel free to read alternate McPhee works if they wish.

McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with the New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. McPhee has taught at Princeton as Ferris Professor since 1975. Both Encounters with the Archdruid and another of his works, The Curve of Binding Energy, were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science. In 1977, McPhee received the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His book Annals of the Former World was published in 1998 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1999.


Calling David Brower an important environmental activist is like calling Hamlet an important member of the Danish royal court. Brower invented modern American environmental activism. John Nielson, National Public Radio

Reading like a novel, Encounters... acquaints us with the personalities of four men. The protagonist is Friends of the Earth founder and "militant conservationist" David Brower. Brower's three antagonists on the environmental battlefield include an developer, a geologist/miner, and a federal bureaucrat. McPhee takes us on virtual journeys to three wildernesses - a coastal island, a Western mountain range, and the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We witness the clash of these men's differing philosophies and relationships to nature, but also the humor and friendliness of their interactions as worthy opponents.

Resources to learn more about McPhee, his life and work, and the Archdruid, David Brower.

Awareness Flowers from Natural History of WATER

On February 27, seven old faithfuls and three perky guests bubbled with opinions about Alice Outwater's Water: A Natural History. Our group included a water quality scientist, and extremely knowledgeable members of the local Watershed advocacy association, who contributed much to our discussion.

Outwater's book ripples with fascinating details plumbed from Herculean research into North America's past. Chapter by chapter, the book mixes a toxic brew of evidence: civilization has damned our continent's ecological systems that formerly provided a continuously self-cleaning, self-renewing water cycle. As the Fox admonished the Little Prince, "You become responsible forever, for what you have tamed." Without the natural wetlands, free flowing rivers, and intact forests, we awkwardly, expensively and unsuccessfully attempt to use technology and regulations to produce what was once provided free, by Mother Nature. The book underscores how all aspects of nature are related, and work in concert. Removing one species can have a domino effect. For example, Europeans' lust for fashionable and supremely warm fur almost extincted the North American beaver, the wetlands engineer par excellence.

Comments of amazement and uncomfortable heightened consciousness at what has been lost through ignorance, negligence, short-sightedness and sheer greed, in only a few centuries, were followed swiftly by queries as to what can be done? The sheer volume of human population, agricultural, mining, manufacturing uses and abuses, not to mention polluting sources such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products, when taken together suggest hopelessness as to ever restoring a natural balance. We wondered--are other, less developed countries learning from our mistakes?

Members mentioned the Green Belt tree planting movement in Africa, and the use of human waste as fertilizer in China. A member who had recently returned from visiting a South African city noted that power outages are routine, occur without warning, and are simply adapted to by the populace. In Croatia, coal falls from the sky. In the Middle East, conflicts are over access to water of any kind, quality is a secondary issue. We are lucky to live where there are regulations on the books, even if they are imperfectly enforced, and as unfunded mandates, become a cruel mirage.

Our watershed association visitors (See Opeqon Watershed, Inc. and Opequon Creek Project ) offered that West Virginia has the most dams of any state in the nation--494 at last count. The WV EPA has determined the most polluted watersheds are home turf: Sleepy Creek and Opequon. The association hosts two water cleanups yearly. The Associations' monitoring for E. coli has been discontinued for now. We know that rain storms spike it. The EPA safe standard for E. coli is 235 MPN/100 mL--a storm event raises it to 1600. Waste water treatment plants, agricultural runoffs, raw sewage are primary culprits.The WV Department of Agriculture is monitoring the streams. Unfortunately there is no one site a concerned citizen can go to to see all the different monitoring results gathered by various entities that relate to water quality.

The EPA has a Watershed Implementation Plan that specifies upgrading of all Wastewater treatment plants. As demonstration projects, the association built five rain gardens throughout the area to retain run off but it has been found that they require so much maintenance that they are not as efficient mechanisms as originally believed. Riparian buffers--three rows of trees by the sides of rivers and streams--do much to prevent erosion and minimize runoff. There are federal funds and other types of grants available to offset costs. The Association holds several tree plantings yearly and draws folks from all over.

How can we take action? Join and become active in water quality activist groups like your local Watershed Association or Riverkeepers group, as well as chapters of national groups such as the Sierra Club. Donations are always welcome! Write to your local, state and national legislators, and agencies such as the EPA. Participate in water monitoring projects. Vote. Think about your consumer choices. If you own property, think thrice before building, altering the landscape, removing natural flora, or using pesticides and fertilizers. Educate yourself. Dispose of waste responsibly. For example, keep unused pharmaceuticals out of the waste stream. Contact your local hazardous waste disposal agency and check out these guidelines here.

We thank Alice Outwater for her work. We now have a thirst to learn more, do more to protect our water.

Poetry Walk Seeks Submissions for Yankauer Wildflower Festival on April 16

The Potomac Valley Audubon Society will hold its annual spring Wildflower Festival on Saturday, April 16 at the Yankauer Nature Preserve, from 11:00 to 4:00 PM rain or shine. For the fourth year in a row, the festival will feature a Poetry Walk. Original poems relating to the season will be displayed along the preserve’s Kingfisher trail where the majority of wildflowers are found.
Poets are invited to submit for consideration up to three works that explore themes and images related to spring. Send poems by email to or by regular mail to Poetry Walk, c/o PVAS, PO Box 578, Shepherdstown, WV 25443. Entries may also be dropped off at Four Seasons Books, 116 W. German Street, Shepherdstown. The deadline for receipt of submissions is 5:00 PM on Friday, April 8.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Alice Outwater's Water: A Natural History will be the topic for our meeting on February 27 (See details at left.) Alice Outwater is an environmental engineer and the coauthor, with Larry Gonick, of The Cartoon Guide to the Environment. A little web surfing indicated that Outwater used to live in Vermont but now lives in Colorado and you can read her personal blog Beside the Stream: Country Life at 7000 Feet here: FROM THE BACK COVER of Water: A Natural History: In Water: A Natural History environmental engineer Alice Outwater takes us on a journey that beings five hundred years ago, back to the wardrobe records of kings of France and the diaries of the first Western explorers, to recover a lost knowledge—how the land cleans its own water. Water moves from the reservoir to the toilet, from the grasslands of the Midwest to the Everglades of Florida, through the guts of a wastewater treatment plant and out to the waterways again. Step by step we come to learn what should have been obvious from the beginning: a complex ecological system long kept American water remarkably clean but we have randomly removed necessary components from it… Water is the unforgettable story of the symbiosis that existed between the country’s water, the land from which is springs, and the life the two can support together.

FYI, Water gets 4.5 stars out of 5 in ratings by readers on Amazon. One reader comments “Aldo Leopold would recommend this book!” IMO, an excellent companion activity to reading this book is working on the watershed section of the Audubon society’s Do You Know Your Ecological Address?

Readers, please add info from your own research or reading of this book by commenting on this blogpost! Or email to and I will post!

Your fearless leader and humble servant.

January 9, 2011 PVNWG Communes with Leopold's A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC

Fortunately, nowadays one does not have to "live alone" with awareness of ecological wounds as Aldo Leopold felt he must in the early decades of the last century. Thanks in great part to Leopold's work at consciousness raising , ecological literacy is rapidly becoming a foundation of human society.

As one small example: our group met on January 9 to honor Leopold and discuss his ideas. A gusty wind iced our fingers and toes, but we took comfort that the pale sun rose a little earlier than the day before, and would set a little later. Member Marilee welcomed us to her cozy home, and we settled in with cups of hot tea and delicacies.

We got right to work on a major task--choosing our authors and works for 2011. We have an exciting reading list lined up! (See left.) Unfortunately we became so absorbed in discussing the candidates and related topics that we left only a short time to devote to Leopold's A Sand County Almanac! But here's the gist of what we shared (if anyone remembers something that I missed or wants to contribute a new thought, please email or add your comment to this blog posting):

1. Aldo Leopold was an artist-philosopher-scientist. Almost a priest of Gaia. His writing integrates facts with a deep wisdom, a keen intellect, a cautionary prescription, his own emotional and spiritual responses to nature, and his simple enjoyment of living. Each word is perfectly chosen and combined with its fellows. So much meaning is packed into each sentence, but they all seem to flow effortlessly. His descriptions of nature are vivid, sensory experiences. Some members had lengthy handwritten notes or had flagged multiple pages in their copies of the book, to mark their favorites of his ideas and artistic turns of phrase. Members quoted from his writing to emphasize their points.
2. His ideas were groundbreaking but they seem almost commonplace now because so much of what we (meaing the conservation community) read and practice is permeated with his understanding of how humans are members of a biotic community and how our actions need to reflect this basic ecology. But he was one of the first to think this through and express it! Putting his work into the context of his time creates awe for his achievement. He predated Rachel Carson's Silent Spring!
3. As one feels/thinks, so one acts. Our environmental crisis is directly related to how we think, feel and perceive nature. There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot....
4. Leopold pointed out how access to nature was historically a CLASS issue, for example, private game clubs. Without governments and others working to preserve parks and lands accessible to all ( i.e. our rightful heritage), likely only the elite would be able to enjoy natural beauty and the full benefits of a working ecosystem.
5. Hunters can be conservationists, and historically some of our foremost conservationists, like Teddy Roosevelt, came from their ranks. Leopold writes of his hunting experiences as a form of communion with and reverence for the land, and decries hunters whose primary motivation is the trophy.
6. Leopold inspired members to pull out their field guides to check his references to plant species. Two members brought supplemental books written by or about Leopold to share.
7. Question: does Leopold's writing promote an impractical ideal? Not sure. Certainly a guiding principle to work toward.
8. Leopold was fortunate to own land where he and his family could visit and experience it through the seasons. He got to have an ongoing intimacy that deepened over time, with a particular place. We can all do that wherever we live, if we make the effort.
9. Leopold's son was named Luna. That was pretty radical for the time. Still is, come to think of it. Another clue to his "out of the box" nature?
10. Leopold had a wry sense of humor. He comes across as approachable and easy going. He was able to write of serious issues and even admonish us in a way that does not seem strident or accusing, but inspiring
11. Leopold was a proponent of Deep Ecology, before that term was invented, that is the idea that all facets of nature have a right to exist beyond their utility to humans.