Study Guide

Green Fire Summer Camp

Leopold took away the kids' big sticks and told them if they wanted to talk to God they could do it in private. He also took away the military dress code and told the kids to think and dress like a mountain, or a tree, or a stone in a river. Basically, he trained them to look for nature's green fire in everything; then he sent them into the woods to find the fire for themselves.

Henry David Thoreau

The ghost of Thoreau actually lived in a small canvas backpack Aldo toted around everywhere he went, though Leopold never knew this. Thoreau's ghost influenced just about everything Leopold did, from the time of the "green fire" until the day he died. Thoreau haunted the Green Fire Camp so much that a few kids had some nightmares about his nasty neck beard. They received counseling.

Anyway, every morning, Thoreau's ghost whispered: Get cozy with the land and develop a relationship with it. Then Thoreau coaxed Leopold to write about the land like he would write about a favorite lover, or his mother or sister or brother.

Rachel Carson

When Rachel Carson took over the Green Fire Summer Camp, the focus shifted. Things got gross—as in, humans-do-things-that-are-killing-the-planet gross. She took kids on nature hikes and showed them the broken eggs of ospreys and bald eagles: poisons had weakened the eggshells, and the bird embryos had died.

Under Carson's direction, nature writing turned into environmental activist writing. This kind of bummed the kids out—that's a lot less fun that sitting around campfires singing—but Carson eased them into it. She gave the kids got a message, and their writing about nature started to include thoughts about ways to keep destructive human behavior in check.

Albert Hochbaum

Hochbaum was the "duck man": he preserved huge grasslands and marshes in Canada and Wisconsin for the migration of ducks. As a Green Fire Camp director, he taught kids how to make duck calls, take pictures, and paint portraits, although it was difficult to get the ducks to sit still for more than a few seconds at a time. Soon, the kids were writing about ducks as fellow earth creatures, not as just food or stammering cartoon characters.