Free showing of Aldo Leopold documentary 'Green Fire'at OAC
There was no doubt that Aldo Leopold stood right here - shivering in the freezing cold - just like this.
"And this is pretty close to how it was when he came here," said Curt Meine recently, looking around the inside of the chicken coop that Leopold - the Wisconsin naturalist writer - converted into a weekend retreat for his family in Baraboo. "He came in January too."
Of course, many know of Leopold's time in "the shack," as his family would affectionately call it, from his 1949 book, "A Sand County Almanac." A book, Meine indicated, that actually begins in January - a month in which observations of wildlife, as Leopold wrote, can be "almost as simple and peaceful as snow, and almost as continuous as cold."
And - on that Tuesday afternoon this January - cold it was. The temperature was lingering around 2 degrees, but Meine's smiling eyes could be seen from the few-inch space between the bottom of his winter hat, pulled snugly down, and the collar of his jacket, pulled tightly up.
He swung open a small window, letting in a late-afternoon meager sunlight but no warmth.
"Well," Meine said, "at least there aren't mosquitoes."
Meine - a senior fellow at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, just about a mile down the road from the shack - was happy to be back. He had been traveling a lot lately, promoting "Green Fire" - a documentary exploring Leopold's life, and how his ideas continue to influence environmental ethics and wilderness conservation around the country today.
A free public showing of "Green Fire" will be at the Oconomowoc Arts Center this Thursday. Meine is the film's narrator, who also conducted many of its interviews around the country about Leopold-inspired projects connecting people and land at a local level. He will speak before the screening.
The Tall Pines Conservancy is hosting the event. The Nashotah-based land trust helps to preserve rural heritage by protecting water resources, open spaces and farmland in Northwestern Waukesha County.
"It's been very exciting," said Meine, of the praise and film festival honors the documentary has received, and the subsequent prompting of more screenings and appearances at college campuses and theaters. It's been exhausting, he admitted, but he can't decline sharing Leopold's philosophy of an "ecological conscience" - of the individual responsibility for the health of the land. Particularly now, Meine said, with the ever-growing concerns of climate change.
"Leopold's work remains not only relevant," he said, "but becomes even more valuable as we seek to build the land ethic in this new century." A land ethic, Meine continued, easily quoting Leopold from memory, that "simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively - the land.'"
This significance is never more evident than at Leopold's shack - even in the dead of winter, Meine noted - in Sauk County. Meine, who wrote the 1988 biography "Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work," explained that Leopold first saw the 80-acre former farm property for sale along the Wisconsin River in 1935. It was exhausted crop fields then, stripped of its native diversity and fertile topsoil - an example of common excessive agriculture practices at the time.
However, Meine said, Leopold - an already respected professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison for his work in forestry and wildlife management - saw potential. That he could reclaim, as he would later write, "with shovel and ax, what we are losing elsewhere."
Leopold bought the place and went to work, fixing up the existing chicken coop - installing a wood stove, chimney, and a small sleeping quarters to accommodate his wife and his five children. Together, they planted a garden, shrubs, prairie plants - and eventually more than 40,000 trees.
"And here," Meine said, "Leopold wrote."
Leopold died of a heart attack fighting a grass fire at a neighbor's property in 1948 when "A Sand County Almanac" was only a draft. The following year, his family got it published - allowing his words to resonate in nearly environmental movement - including sustainable agriculture, urban gardening and ocean conservation - still today.
A message, Meine said, that the filmmakers continue on in "Green Fire" to inspire even more people to action. "In conservation terms," he said, "it is time to reassert our obligation to future generations, to our human and natural communities."
Meine, now standing outside the shack, motioned around the property - at the acres of forest that wasn't there before Leopold arrived. "Leopold's ideas are current," he said, "and still so far ahead of us."
IF YOU GO
What: Screening of "Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time"
When: Feb. 7. Presentation at 7 p.m. followed by the film at 7:30. (Doors open at 6:30)
Where: Oconomowoc Arts Center, 641 E. Forest St.
Cost: Free. Seat reservation recommended at www.tallpinesconservancy.org or (262) 369-0500.
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