I am Aldo Leopold, the greatest naturalist that ever lived. I have observed a thousand species on my walks and know their cycles and connections to my life. Sounds delusional, right? Alas this reality exists only in my desires, in my wishes for growth and a need to be really good at something. Why do I have a need to be the greatest at anything? Am I hiding something, as the Johnny Depp character is in the movie Don Juan deMarco? Or am I merely, as I think is my sincere intent, listening to a need in my life to know, to understand better the natural world, based on a life-long (but somewhere lost on a back shelf) love of nature, just as Marlon Brando asks his wife in the movie what became of their fiery love.
Of course, I have not even gotten beyond the dream stage: I want to be the Aldo Leopold of my land. But, I am stuck already. The above 90-degree heat for over a week does not help. My brain and blood seem too thick to think and move. That is my excuse this month. But what of later? I have made the first step – freed up an incredible amount of time – by quitting my job. I suppose this proves perhaps that I am a bit unstable (I wouldn’t go as far as crazy). I was a teacher and summer always had a strange flow to it after the extreme time pressures of the school year. It usually took several weeks before I felt able to morph into a different rhythm. Yet, I was lucky to have summers off, a chance to garden and explore my property. Somehow I seemed to always be playing catch-up instead of immersing myself in my dream. There’s also the fact that I don’t want to be a part-time summer naturalist. Aldo Leopold did not just write about the summer season in A Sand County Almanac. I want to understand the cycles that are happening year-round, year after year. My property is enough scope for me, a great beginning, a laboratory already stocked and functioning – just waiting for the scientist with time to observe.
There is nothing wrong with my life. I love it. I love my family, my house and land, our community, our chances to travel, and most aspects of teaching. But it’s going by too quickly. Being in nature always makes me happy, fulfills me, grounds ME, in the context of the world, into a proper perspective. I feel as Leopold did that man is only a member of a biotic team. This perspective has always comforted me rather than unnerved me. And the more I put off this hike or that adventure (let’s get chickens) because I was consumed by teaching, the faster it seemed to go, until last fall I realized that I have missed the last seven fall seasons at Halcyon, our property. This disturbing awareness nagged at me all year and became exacerbated by the death, too early in her life, of my sister-in-law, causing me to seriously evaluate and challenge some basic life and happiness questions. This in turn led to my decision to change, to alter my reality, to pick-up dreams that were forming when I was 18 and 24. If I hadn’t misplaced them under obligations and self-imposed notions of what really matters, I could be a great naturalist by now. I think that is one key to many accomplished people: they simply followed their dreams, not necessarily setting out to be great, but their passion mixed with steady progress and diligence to their hobby, craft, science, discipline, etc. allowed them, years later, to really be an expert at something, or at least incredibly knowledgeable on a subject. They kept the passion burning under the slow, steady flame that the Faye Dunaway character credits in Don Juan de Marco as the key to sustaining a marriage.
My husband’s vocational passion has been rocks and the earth. He has kept this passion alive through 25 years of study and even today, when he is distant in his thoughts, I know (thankfully, yet sometimes wryly), that he is thinking of rocks and not another woman. I have friends with literary passions and they have found their niches writing and teaching writing and literature. I have friends with a passion for nurturing young children, and they are wonderful teachers. My last 25 years of work have been more disjointed: medical technologist, mother, citizen water-quality monitor, environmental education volunteer, molecular research technician, and elementary school teacher. Yet they all have a common thread in science and I can see in hindsight a trend toward my naturalist dreams. Without taking a jump off my treadmill, I might continue to misguide myself for years. In my Master’s in Teaching program I wrote how teaching young children would allow me to rekindle my love of nature. And it did. Some. It also took me further from nature in many ways, with 9-hour days in the school building and more at home in front of my computer. So instead of trying to fulfill my dreams in a sideways manner, I am facing them head-on. I want a biocentric view of Halcyon. I want to know of the plants’ and animals’ life cycles and interdependencies. Their ancestors were here long, long before me and I have a great respect for their tenacity in the face of human interventions. I want to reconnect with the girl who loved reading the Laura Ingall’s series and who was nicknamed Bertha Biology by her brother – I’ll even accept the awful nickname if it means I am worthy of the title. I want to rekindle a flame, keep it burning slowly, and never let it die down again. I want a chance to approach self-realization in the context of Halcyon. I don’t want to change my reality the way Don Juan de Marco did. I want to live authentically in the natural world, in my pursuit of happiness, like Aldo Leopold.