Aldo Leopold or Don Juan de Marco?

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.

16 thoughts on “Aldo Leopold or Don Juan de Marco?”

  1. This is a such a heartfelt blog entry. It truly helps me get an understanding of the choice you have made. I can relate to what you mean about feeling like summer is a way of catching up after a year of teaching. I feel like that often. By the time summer is over I never feel like I have done all the things I felt needed to be done because I am catching up from the things I never got done during the school year. Life is speeding by and being in nature does allow me also to feel grounded (no pun intended). We live in such a beautiful place in Rockbridge County that to not enjoy it is a shame.


    1. Thank you Laurie. I like the word grounded. I feel very lucky to have the chance to try this endeavor/lifestyle or whatever one wants to call it. You have a wonderful property too. It will help you keep a healthy perspective.


  2. I can only say “Bravo” Lisa, for choosing this path to Nature. I’m writing this as the rain is pouring down at my little Rockbridge homeplace. In spite of the weather, your words and passion inspire me at this moment to be outside, to smell, to see, to feel the ever changing wonders of nature. We are lucky we choose to live where being a part of nature is a high priority and can be enjoyed, studied, and at times amazed, just by walking out the back door. Thank You.


  3. Lisa, this is a beautiful piece – so heartfelt and inspiring. I was moved by it and also filled with happiness for you and the choice you’ve made. As my part-time job just ended and we’re now back from Italy, I find myself also wondering what my next, and probably last leg of a legacy will be – waiting also for time and space to let my dreams and purpose emerge. Pieces of what you wrote, the sense of urgency about time passing, took me back to many days when Robin and I would walk the fields around the farm, talking about time. Often, Robin would say, ” if we don’t do something soon, time will pass. I just want to be able to still plant a tree and be able to look at it twenty years from now, watch it through it’s evolution and have the satisfaction that comes from looking back and feeling the years, knowing that I put the sapling in the ground.”
    Though she was robbed of life way too soon, there is something about the essence of what you’re doing that carries her spirit along with you. Perhaps, that is also a piece of what moves me. Much love…….


  4. “do what you love – it’s what the world needs of you” I saw this somewhere and it’s simple but it seems to encompass all the fear in starting new things and all the wonderment too. go you!


  5. Beautifully written, dear friend. Your self-reflection is inspirational as I need to do some of that myself. Thank you for being such a good role model for me! I look forward to hearing more as you explore your piece of the universe.



  6. Lisa I learned of your blog from a comment you made on PiBoIdMo. I just want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this first entry explaining your motivation for this journey. I too feel so many of the things that you talked about. My journey has been similar in some ways and different in some. I will be following your blog now and I will go back and read entries from the past. Several things really hit me. First, I also live “in nature” in rural Texas. Like you I really want to learn everything I can about what is going on in my environment but actually doing so has been hard for many reasons, a lot of my reasons are similar to yours. Also, I am a teacher, recently retired, and I am now writing. Your comment about not being able to get into nature because of the weight of the job and your blog about the last child at the pond (I did read that one- the title caught my eye because I have read Louv’s book) brought home to me again about the backward way we teach children about science and nature. Our classroom should be outdoors. If we were taking them outside, and ourselves with them, they would have a much greater chance of keeping that childhood curiosity that we tend to “educate” out of them. I have taken classes outside- junior high and high school- and seen evidence of what can and does happen when students learn because they have questions and are curious enough to find answers. Our state tests and the pressure from administration to teach a certain way and cover way to much content to pass these tests, makes these outings almost impossible but what a conflict of interest for education. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post and look forward to reading more.


  7. Dear Angela, I am glad you found my blog and enjoyed it. A primary goal besides my personal growth is to teach others about nature as I am learning. However, if I can inspire you or others to follow their dreams too, it is like icing on the cake. Good luck with your writing and I look forward to seeing what you publish in the near future!


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