Live Blogging at the Design with Nature Conference- Aldo Leopold and the Return of a Life Thread

Aldo Leopold was actually my initial reason for registering for this conference, so I’m glad we’ve finally arrived at the speaker focusing on his work.

From the first fifteen minutes of Prof Stan Temple’s talk, I’ve already learned that Aldo’s mother required him to keep a daily journal starting at age 8, a practice he continued for the remainder of his life and expanded to include lists of observations in nature, and that he spent 15 years in forest service in residency in the Southwest (sounds like another nature writer I know).  The former fact invokes empathy, the latter desperately makes me want to go to the desert 🙂

The subjects and attendees of this conference have brought a life thread back to the surface: working on and cultivating the immediate, close, and particular, both in time and in physical space, versus big ideas and planning and imagining that transcends time.  In a matter of hours I have met many wonderful, enthusiastic people.  One of the the exhibitors is the owner of a horticulturally-themed bookstore in St. Paul with whom I spent at least ten minutes discussing his storefront garden.  My table mates over lunch were landscape design grad students, a small town resident who started a prairie garden, a country club member who planted prairie plants on the golf course, and a woman interested in native plants in her garden.  All lovely people, all focused on their projects, the specific, small world they have created.  Their stories were marvelous and tender, and I truly hope to cultivate a life and place that I love to a similar degree.  However, when I brought up Transition Towns and bicycle commuting and the big-idea lifestyle change movements I’m so excited about, I was largely met with quizzical stares.  While these individuals love their particular plot of land, the large scale community building and lifestyle changing to address bigger environmental issues is not an aspect of their worldview lens.  I’m sure I’m not giving any particular person nearly enough credit, and likely with time and further conversation many people would prove to be more deeply engaged that I could perceive in a first impression.  But the separation between the big ideas and the direct action is disheartening.

To bring it back to Aldo Leopold…particular projects and big ideas need not be mutually exclusive, and I think nature writers like Aldo, Wendell Berry, and Edward Abbey are perfect evidence of this.  These men (because unfortunately the majority of historic famous nature writers are men, save Rachel Carson) had particular landscapes they loved, hikes and creatures and parks that they protected in both words and body.  However, through their writing their passion for place became a microcosm of passion for the planet, for ideas and change movements that affect the big picture, the WAY WE LIVE.

I am tempted to make excuses for those whose center is their own particular world, a place they cherish while the world at large might go by the wayside.  Tempted to say we need not all be visionaries, that the world needs leaders and followers, etc etc etc.  But the truth is that we all must be visionaries, big thinkers, but we must do it TOGETHER.  In light of the drastic social and environmental changes that have been happening for decades if not centuries, we all need to radically rethink how we live and interact with each other and the world.  But most importantly, we need to write about those visions and talk with each other to move into the future collectively.  Staunch individualism is outdated and, moreover, impossible for holistic health of the individual, community, and ecosystem.  Dream!  Plan!  Discuss!  Do!

This will be my final live blog from the conference.  It would be great to get some feedback on whether or not this is something worth doing again.  Have a great weekend everyone, and keep thinking and talking about your hopes for the future.

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