Letter to the editor: Leopold’s ethic of nature revisited

I love Aldo Leopold. His writings have long touched my soul. Yesterday I spent the day with other Leopold groupies contemplating his classic “The Land Ethic” at the Green Mountain Club’s headquarters in Waterbury — a building built with pine, hemlock and mixed hardwoods supplied by Vermont Family Forests. That is a story for another day.
Yesterday the focus was on exploring and manifesting a land ethic in Vermont — one that is dedicated to serving the people and the land. This was Leopold’s life work and he died before he fully answered or named it. He gave a pile of clues and he pointed to the direction but he never named it.
Early on in his career while experiencing the American Southwest, Leopold asked this question: “And if there be, indeed, a special nobility in the human race — a special cosmic value, distinctive from and superior to all other life — by what token shall it be manifest?” Leopold died before he could name the token.
Leopold made it clear that the token needed to reflect the fact that land is not dead but actually a thinking organism. Leopold also made it crystal clear that we needed a mutually beneficial relationship with land and not a simple experience or use of land.
Webster tells us that a token is “a distinguishing mark or feature.” So what is that token that Leopold was calling upon us to adopt and employ? Did he actually name it somewhere? If he had undoubtedly it would have appeared in his “The Land Ethic,” which is his greatest work and gift. It didn’t.
Today I woke realizing that the token that Leopold was calling for but failed to name is the most essential of all virtues. It is more important than gratitude, prudence, humility, justice, fortitude, temperance, equanimity, loving-kindness or even empathy.
What Leopold was calling for without naming it was compassion. Manifesting deep, genuine, heart-felt, soul-inspired compassion in land conservation is the task at hand. I do not know much, but today I know that.
David Brynn, founder and executive director
Vermont Family Forests Foundation Inc.

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