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Aldo Leopold Essay Odyssey

Yliren prepared to release the arrow the moment the wolf moved toward her. Instead, she watched as it lowered itself to the ground, rolling over onto its back and exposing its belly. Confusion washed over her. This was not typical behavior, she knew. Behind it, the remaining pack members that she could see sat back on their haunches, front legs pulled close, tails tucked underneath them, ears drawn back. There were the behaviors of a pack submitting to their dominate, only their dominate was submitting her.

Slowly, Yliren released the tension on her bow, setting it away and putting the arrow back in her quiver. Despite the warning bells in her head, she stepped closer. At this point, it didn’t matter weapon or not. The wolf whined as she approached, but the others remained still. Taking great pains not to spook the animal, Yliren wove her fingers into the fur of its under-belly. She didn’t know what she was doing, all she could do was try to keep calm and convey to the wolf that she was not a threat.

When it was satisfied, the creature rolled back on its paws and stood upright towing over her. It didn’t feel right that this magnificent creature had all but bowed to her. So Yliren lowered her own to it, hoping to show the wolf respect and trust. After a moment, she felt the weight of the wolfs muzzle as it rested atop her head. A wave a relief washed her, it had accepted her submission.

When it moved away, she looked up, “I don’t know why I deserve that.”

She spoke aloud as if the animal would understand what she said. Typically, a few days without interaction didn’t bother her, Yliren didn’t care to converse with the townspeople anyways, but being out here by herself with nothing but the wind for company had her going stir-crazy. So, she was going to talk to the wolves since there was no one there to call her insane.

The wolf whined again, and the darker gray wolf she had noticed before came forward with a bone of elk meat in its jowls. It lay the meat in front of her and returned to the others in the trees.

“It wasn’t anything special.” She shrugged, “you would have killed it eventually. I just helped it along.”

The white wolf looked down at the meat then back up to her.

“You guy need that more than I do,” she pointed, stepping back to her fire and the pack she had filled with supplies pulling out the dried meat she wrapped for the trip. “I have something here to keep me content for the time being.”

Yliren watched as the white wolf came closer, the others following it into the clearing. The gray wolf, as well as a second with a coat that was a lighter gray, took a position on either side of the pack, the others mimicked the dominate, finding a place that was a safe distance from her small fire to rest. Two of the smaller wolves gnawed on the remainder of the elk meat.

Yliren wasn’t one to believe in the gods the villagers prayed to, but something had to be on her side for her to have averted being eaten by the wolves. Maybe she was just lucky they had filled their bellies on the elk and wouldn’t need a meal for a few days. Yliren didn’t know how she had escaped, but she would count her blessings. Now, she was able to continue with her plan to find Kymn, and that was good.

“You know where I’m going right?” She spoke to the leader, in between bites. “You won’t want to follow me there. If I get myself killed, it’s one thing, but you have a pack to think about. Kymn is my only person. He’s my pack, and I let him go on his own. I should have gone with him.”

Saying it aloud made it feel real to Yliren. She sat her head in her hands, guilt had been eating at her since he left. She was so angry that he would choose to go with them when he was all she had, that she didn’t realize she was doing the same by not going herself. In not going, she abandoned him as well. The realization made her sick. How could she have not gone with him? He was probably disappointed in her for not coming with them. Damn her confidence, always thinking she knew better than anyone else.

“He’s alive, he has to be.” Yliren sighed, more to herself than to the wolf this time.

The small fire filled her with warmth, but she sat until the embers dwindled. Then she took her pack, tossing it into her little shelter.

“You can hang around until morning, but that’s when we part ways, you can’t go where I’m going.” She stood dusting her pants before she moved into the shelter. She bundled up with her blade nearby and counted her breaths until sleep crept upon her.

When she woke just the before the sun rose, she was greeted with silence. Part of her was sad the wolves were gone. Being alone among the villagers was different than being alone in the wilderness. The other part of her was glad they wouldn’t be following her to the Knawl. The way it attacked humans didn’t give her faith that it wouldn’t attack the wolves, and they were too beautiful to be ripped apart by the beast.

She loaded what she needed in the pack, there was no need to take the rest, either she would be coming back here to sleep again before hiking across the valley or she wouldn’t need a shelter at all. Yliren stepped out of the shelter to find the white wolf sitting in wait just outside. The others were scattered throughout the clearing, but each seemed to radiate excitement. They were ready to go.

Yliren stood, glaring down at the leader, “Didn’t I say you couldn’t come with me?”

The wolf turned its eyes to her momentarily, then turned back away as if to dismiss her question.

“Okay, but I’m not responsible for what happens.” She warned.

Yliren move then, making sure the embers were covered in snow, and the remaining supplies were packed. As she moved out of the clearing, a whining caught her attention. The white wolf turned and trotted in a direction that was further south than what she was headed. Then it stopped just at the line of trees and turned back to her.

“It’s this way? Are you sure?”

It turned back and continued into the woods. Yliren didn’t like giving up control but she followed, the remainder of the pack falling in around her. They would know this area better than she did, and be aware the only time a human was in this part of the woods was to track the Knawl. She would follow.

Yliren caught up with the leader. It moved with confidence, stopping periodically to listen, sniff and adjust its direction.

Yliren had a thought, “Well if I’m going to be around you for a bit, I should have something better to call you than white wolf and gray wolf. I’m going to call you… Misr, because you’re beautiful.”

It stopped moving, sitting back on its hind legs and looking up at her.

“Do you like that?” She asked. He whined at her then continued forward.

In the end, after watching how the others interacted and behaved, she had names for all six. The darker gray wolf was, Gyden, since he was more excitable. The lighter gray wolf was Kors. She was more serious and tended to stay closer to Misr, Yliren decided she was probably his mate. Pryl, had creamy fur with brown freckled in and the two smaller wolves were Baek and Jun.

The further they moved into the woods the more Yliren noticed evidence of the Knawl having been in the area. Footsteps and broken branches littered the landscape. It was the only feature of the Knawl that Yliren was familiar with, the footsteps it left behind. Misr was leading her in the right direction.

When the sun was overhead, beating down through the tops of the trees, Misr let out a growl, his ears darting forward, and his tail shot out. Almost another hour walk later she learned why. A body, twisted and skinned, a bloody heap lay on the ground. Dread set in Ylirens bones, making her feel weak, her stomach turned. Could it be him? Was this her Kymn? What would she do if it was him?

The answers came in the form of a pin, a dried flower pin Yliren had seen on Vern’s chest before the group left the village. She knew she should feel bad as relief flooded through her veins. Vern had parents, a younger brother, and sister. But they had already assumed her dead.

They had made no move to find their daughter. All Yliren could bring herself to care about was that it wasn’t Kymn. Carefully, Yliren removed the pin from the clothing before they continued forward. Her family should have it back.

From that point on, Misr and the pack were alert and ready to attack. The area became barren, the evergreens were empty and covered in snow. There were no bushes, just knotted tree limbs, broken limbs and bones. Nothing living could be seen or heard, there was just snow and death.

IN 1946, TWO YEARS before his unexpected death, Aldo Leopold wrote to his close friend William Vogt about the overriding conflict between ecological conservation and industrialism, with its emphases on efficiency, profit, and technology. Leopold suggested that industrialism might be reconcilable with conservation, but only if it could refrain from impairing the land’s overall health. Though he doubted there was any such ethic in industrialism, or that one would ever emerge, he nevertheless urged the effort on: “That the situation is hopeless should not prevent us from doing our best.”

As ecologist Julianne Newton reveals in Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, Leopold’s conservation thought focused on two primary areas: on land health as an ecological and normative principle and on the search for new cultural ways for people to live rightly in relation to the land. With respect to Leopold the scientist, Newton gives us our best look yet at his evolving ecological ideas. By carefully tracing his intellectual journey, she is able to “translate” more clearly than ever Leopold’s familiar phrases and word choices. His important concept of land health was based on his notion of a dynamic land pyramid, which called for treating land as a whole and for fostering diverse food chains. The Leopold who emerges in Newton’s work is a first-rate ecologist, more advanced in his scientific thought than many have concluded.

Even more valuable is Newton’s ample evidence of Leopold’s role as cultural reformer. Leopold was not out merely to manage land; he was out to change the world around him by challenging his fellow citizens and their profit-driven, shortsighted industrial culture. As Newton succinctly summarizes, to Leopold, “conservation . . . entailed a struggle . . . over what people thought right and most wanted in life.”

Newton’s fine work should be the beginning point for anyone interested in Leopold’s scientific and conservation thought. Although it does not displace Curt Meine’s more complete biography, it certainly frames Leopold’s challenges succinctly: Have we begun to see the land as a whole instead of its parts? Have we examined broader measures to determine land health? Have we adequately confronted our profit-driven culture? Have we taught landowners how to use their lands better? This insightful book illustrates that Leopold still has much to teach us.

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