Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 5, No 4 (2011)

Fire on the Mountain: Ecology Gets its Narrative Totem

Gavin Van Horn
Issued Date: 28 Dec 2011


Aldo Leopold’s essay ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’ was more than a parable about a redemptive personal moment; it was the fruition of a larger effort on Leopold’s part to effectively communicate the fundamentals of a ‘land ethic’. I explore striking narrative antecedents to Leopold’s ‘green fire’ moment, including writings by Henry David Thoreau and Ernest Thompson Seton, and articulate why wolves provided the quintessential totem animal for communicating a larger ecological ‘drama’. Both these literary antecedents and the essay’s ongoing—sometimes surprising—impacts are worth exploring, not just because of the high regard in which the essay itself is held but because Leopold succeeded in navigating a problem that persists in our own time: the gap between scientifically informed understandings of the world and effectively communicating those understandings to the public.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v5i4.437


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