Tired of ads?
Join today and never see them again.
Advertisement - Guide continues below
The Green Fire Starter, I Was a Teenage Mountain, Super Organism Man, The Duck Whisperer
I guess you could call me the poster boy for the American Dream. I was born in 1887 in Burlington, Iowa to German immigrants. In fact, my first language was German. I spent my days being a model student and exploring the grasslands and bluffs surrounding Burlington. I loved floating down the Mississippi River to get to the woods that were on the other side.
Basically, I had the classic American small-town childhood. I was Tom Sawyer without the truancy or the silver tongue. Or the lying, or the moneymaking schemes. Okay, so I wasn't exactly Tom Sawyer; I was Tom Sawyer's well-behaved and studious cousin.
I wasted no time getting to work. In 1909, I went to Arizona to establish the first comprehensive management plan for the Grand Canyon and draft the Forestry Service's first fish and game handbook. I loved overachieving.
Then I was sent to New Mexico to help create the nation's first wilderness area. In 1933, I was appointed as a Wildlife Management Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and that's where I stayed and raised my family.
Sounds like I had a charmed and well-ordered life, right? Well, almost: I had a traumatizing experience that changed my life and my whole view of humanity. We'll get to that in a moment.
I knew that I wanted to be a forester from a very young age, so in 1900, hearing that Yale University was implementing the first school of forestry, I pestered my parents to enroll me into a college prep high school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. I went to the Lawrenceville School and then enrolled in the Sheffield Scientific School to take the forestry classes that would prepare me for the Ivy League. Even then, I spent most of my time outside exploring the landscapes surrounding Lawrenceville.
Once in the Yale School of Forestry, they locked me indoors. Lame, right? I spent most my time studying trees from inside a bunch of stuffy classrooms. That was tough, but this enforced separation from nature had a profound effect on my views of nature and nature writing.
I was very political; after all, a guy can't protect the wilderness without getting his hands dirty Washington, D.C. (That dirt is very hard to get out from under your fingernails, by the way.)
Now, I'm political, but I'm not partisan. I speak for the trees. If you're a good farmer and a respectful steward of the land, then I'm more conservative and think the government should leave you alone. If you're wasteful and dangerous to ecosystems and the health of your fellow beings, then I'm a bit of a liberal and believe the government should step in and read you the Wisconsin Conservation Act of 1927 that I helped pass.
I was never a churchgoer. However, I'm not an atheist. The organization of the universe and the laws of nature are good enough gods for me; I think those laws are part of a mysterious higher power of which my body and that mountain over there are just two of the many participants.
I believe that all "things" should be treated as equals. If we thought this way consistently, then we would never mistreat anything ever again. There would be no polluted rivers or tortured prisoners or abused wives or beaten animals. For me, God is the natural world, so I think we should treat all things human and non-human as divine.
Thinking like mountains