Aldo Leopold on the Colorado

Aldo Leopold has been a lifelong inspiration for me and someone whose writings I turn to often.  For the first time, however, I am reading Round River, published in 1953 by Oxford University Press.  The second chapter, The Delta Colorado, chronicles his trip with Carl Leopold on the Colorado Delta region below the U.S. border starting in San Luis and going deep into a wetlands wonder before the Hoover Dam caused its long slow death.

What struck me were two things: 1) the amount and variety of wildlife that dwelt therein (now vanished or reduced to small numbers), and 2) the amount of game it took to keep two grown men from hunger.  Leopold’s daily journal entries are fun, informative and definitely from a “guy’s” point of view.  He’s getting to know the land by hunting, canoeing, hiking, and exploring its contours.  They meet and try to talk with a Cocopah youth on horseback – unheard of today in that region.  The record is point-in-time, when that region and all its communities were at the brink of massive environmental and cultural change that most did not fathom.  Up stream three hundred miles near Parker, Arizona the realization of other men’s dreams would radically change the lives and fortunes of many by siphoning off water for development in the seven states of the Colorado River Compact.  Ironically this agreement was signed the very same year Leopold made his now famous trek.

Round River is a collection of lyrical prose.  Leopold is one of our best writers in this genre.  Sometimes I just read his works for the sheer joy of its language and easy style.  This little book of essays includes many gems including one about the nature of hobbies (A Man’s Leisure Time) that is still instructive today:

A good hobby may be a solitary revolt against the common-place, or it may be the joint conspiracy of a congenial group.  That group might be the family.  In either event it is a rebellion, and if a hopeless one, all the better. ~ p. 8, Round River, 1953, first edition.

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