Friday, July 26, 2013

Letters to Estella

Aldo Leopold (1887–1948)
From Aldo Leopold: A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Ecology and Conservation

In 1911 twenty-four-year-old Aldo Leopold met New Mexico native Estella Bergere, seven years his junior. They married the next year. During their courtship they began an exchange of enchanting letters that continued throughout Leopold’s career with the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. As Americans visit national parks and forests this summer, these letters remind us of the pioneering stewardship and wildlife management developed by Leopold and his colleagues a century ago.

Aldo’s letters home would often chronicle various exploits in the wilderness, and this week we present two of his adventures. The first, written in July 1917, details the search for a prospector who had vanished in the Grand Canyon. As a Forest Service employee headquartered in Albuquerque, Leopold was responsible for the oversight of recreation, publicity, and game and fish conservation in Arizona and New Mexico, and he and his associates were visiting the area to draw up plans for recreational development. He was particularly appalled by the haphazard assortment of ragtag entrepreneurs who, in the hope of profits from tourists, were despoiling the rim of the canyon, which “would be a pleasant place to loaf but for the ‘improvements.’” (A few months earlier he had received a letter from Theodore Roosevelt, who as President created the Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906: “It seems to me your association in New Mexico is setting an example to the whole country.”) After she received Aldo’s letter, Estella forwarded it to his mother, with the added note: “Aldo wants you to read this. Most interesting, don’t you think?”

The second letter, from June 1926, describes a visit to a logging camp in Washington State’s Kaniksu National Forest. Leopold’s various visits to logging camps across the country led him to sympathize with the hardships and challenges endured by lumberjacks and to advocate for a policy of selective cutting. In the May-June 1942 issue of
Outdoor America, he wrote that selective cutting “differs from slash logging in that the mature trees are cut periodically instead of simultaneously, and the striplings are left to grow instead of to burn in the next fire. How has industry, with its ear ever cocked for new technology, received this innovation? The answer is written on the face of the hills.”

Dearest Estella—
I am making this sendable to Mother and Carl because I want to tell you of a very interesting little “passear” yesterday and haven’t time to write two letters. . . . If you don't see this week's selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection is used by permission.
To photocopy and distribute it for classroom use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center.