Notes from the Porkies 2

“The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years. It is only the scholar who appreciates that all history consists of successive excursions from a single starting point, to which man returns again and again to organize yet another search for a durable scale of values.” – Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac 

Mirror Lake

We make it to our first cabin at Mirror Lake, three miles from the trailhead where we left the car, and after retrieving our water for the night from the stream down the way I sit and write:

…Great stone wall rises up behind the cabin. Trees cling to its stony face. Rustling in the underbrush. Birdsong in the distance. What are you? The names of things have become lost to us, and so it becomes “some bird.” A fowl out on the water. The names of things have been lost to us, and we have lost ourselves in the namelessness. And there are those of us who wish to remember, who say, “This, yes this, in some way is valuable. Not just to me, but in terms of something greater than me. In terms of something we’ve left behind, forgotten,or failed to discover.”

The cycle of centuries rolls on, there is nothing new under the sun, yet we stand mute and dumb.  The world is as it is, and it is as we name it, both and the same concurrently.  In the being of this world as it’s named, there is both a shutting off and a bringing near – a shutting off of possibility of the one thing in being some other, but also a bringing closer in that the thing, once named, connects to some other – a tree, a habitat, a flower, a leaf – and these threads can be followed, like breadcrumbs, towards deeper mysteries.

Ringed by cliffs and mountains, dense with forest, the call of a loon rings out lonely in the early evening across the water of Mirror Lake.    It wasn’t until later that we were able to identify the sound.  At the time, we were so mistaken as to think that this was a coyote, maybe even a wolf…  But now, the call is placed with that solitary bird out on the water, or the mother we saw days later later at dusk, paddling with her 3 young along the turbulent and rocky Lake Superior shore, riding a wave into a cove, reappearing moments later, alone.

This past November, closer to home, I sat on a log in Salt Creek Woods and listened to a bird squawking in the distance.  I wished it would come closer, but no such luck.  Later, I saw a red headed woodpecker, and as I watched I heard him make the same call I’d been listening to earlier, and the connection was made.

We gain and we fail in the connections we make, and in the words we use to make them.  The connections illuminate our lives, make them fuller, deeper; and while language does this for us, the names can also shut us off from wonder, from possibility.  Maybe in this the forgetting is not such a bad thing, perhaps even necessary, and the successive excursions we make back into the world serve to rejuvenate us to the possibilities that reside there.

On the morning of our second day in the Porkies, we get up and take a rowboat out onto Mirror Lake. We row into a cove where we sit in silence and watch as the wind blows across the water and the ripples bend along the edges of water lilies. A Common Loon dives and resurfaces, sits for a moment or two, and dives once again. The forest reaches down to the shore, where there are reeds and grasses. There is deadfall interspersed, and tall conifers living out their final years towering above the canopy. There are no human voices. No sounds other than the wind and the water lapping against the side of our boat.

the land ethic – part 3

notes from the mornin’time: fiveAMramble #3

8/28 – S.C.A. 239

Land as community, when this idea “penetrates our intellectual life”, the land ethic will come to enlarge the notion of community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals: the land.

This is a key point to keep in mind: that often, when we consider the land, we think only of the dirt, or from where the grass and trees grow. That portion of the earth we plow, excavate, or pave.

But the land is more than this. Infinitely so. How can this be communicated and internalized?

Leopold thought that the land will always be managed as a resource, which I think is probably true. So long as we’re around to manage it. We are resource intensive creatures, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

But will we ever be able to manage the land as something more than an economic resource, or manage the land while keeping close in mind our own membership and place within the biotic community?

Sitting in the woods is less about the sitting, or the woods even; but more about developing for oneself a deeper notion of what this land ethic means. Or, for those not interested in ethics, sitting in the woods is about taking the time to consider and reflect on your, or our, place in this world and becoming more mindful of all the small details unfolding around us all.

the land ethic – part 2 (notes from the steno pad)

notes from the mornin’time: fiveAMramble #2

8/27 *see steno.

If little birds hold the secrets of living, then I feel we may be missing something.  and we should listen closely.

This morning I want to think more about an ethic, limitation on action, and economy…how does this relate back to how we relate to the land.

So I consult my favorite online resource and think about word origins and some basic definitions of things n stuff:

  • ethic (ethos) -> custom
    • Gk – moral character, nature, disposition, habit, custom
      • consider a land ethic in terms of habit and custom based on our disposition towards the land.
  • property -> rare in the sense of “possession” until 17c, “holding property” in 1760
  • own/ownership -> to be master of, to possess
  • limit -> to restrict, bound, boundary
  • economy -> household management, thrift
    • Gk: OIKONIMOS – “manager, steward; OIKOS – “house”; OIKONOMIA – “household management, thrift”
      • 1650s -> sense of wealth, as in the wealth of a country, etc.
  • steward -> house guardian
    • stewardship: the responsible use of resources

A “land ethic” constitutes our habits and customs determined by our disposition toward the land. But our disposition toward the land is that of property. You either own it, or you don’t. If you own the land, then you are the master. If you don’t own the land, then somebody else owns it.

We do not feel bound by any custom, or ethic, to limit or restrict our actions upon the land because as the master we may do as we wish, for who is going to tell me what I can and can not do on, or with, my property?

What is lacking is the notion of stewardship and responsibility, the understanding that every action we commit upon the land is not isolated on our property, but bleeds over into everything else.

the land ethic – part 1

notes from the mornin’time: fiveAMramble #1

What is a land ethic?

Aldo Leopold considered an ethic, in ecological terms, as a “limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence.” An ecological ethic limits our action upon the land…in our struggle for existence. But our struggle for existence has shifted, and is no longer so much a struggle against the land as a struggle against one another’s competing self-interests.

For all practical purposes, the land has been conquered. This does not mean, however, that the land will not rebel, or that the land will not once again be free. Which will likely come at the price of our own undoing, but whatever.

The land relation, like so many relations, is economic. When a relationship is reduced to economics, then there is no relationship other than what relates to the bottom line, or the highest rate of return.

An economic relationship, in strict terms, is a relationship that has everything to do with individuals, but little (or nothing) to do with community.

When we consider the land as property, this carries the notion that the land can be treated as one sees fit. Property is subservient to the master, and the master enjoys the privilege of bending the property to his will.

We do not have an ethic in relation to the land.

We do not have a mode of guidance outside of economic expediency.


When the ecological processes that sustain life on this planet are so intricate, and when we tend to be so disruptive and ignorant, how do we guide our own actions?