The resources below can help guide a land ethic discussion for your church group, high school class, writers’ group, or book club. See the appendix in the back of Threshold for Land Ethic questions.
In 1949 The Land Ethic essay by Aldo Leopold was published in A Sand County Almanac. Many conservationists consider the essay prophetic and its relevance more important with each passing decade. It examines the decisions we make about land and wildlife communities in which we live. How do we make decisions about land use, the value of species, and health of ecosystems? What values drive these decisions?
One way to address these questions is to read novels (stories) about critical times in American history when these decisions were being discussed and determined. Why novels? New cognitive research documents that readers “live” the story, as close to having the real experience, as any other form of literature. A good story engages areas of the brain that spark the imagination invoking the reader’s personal experiences. In this medium, the reader “takes on” the struggles of the characters and has to sort through the possible solutions. In social psychology research, this is called “perspective-taking”. For a topic as serious as climate change this may be an overlooked medium.
The resources below provide book clubs and discussion groups seven novels which return to times in American history when our country made critical decisions about land use. Each explores cultural perspectives about people and nature that often resulted in conflict, broken promises, and policies about land that exist to this day.
I created this project–Seven Stories–after participating in The Land Ethic Leaders Training at the Aldo Leopold Foundation in 2012. The project allows readers to revisit periods in U.S. history when land policies were being discussed and shaped in the social and political realities of the day.
SUGGESTIONS FOR READERS:
Readers can select any novel for a discussion. Reading groups should first download and read The Land Ethic. This will provide a background for guiding questions to identify and discuss the ethical basis for how characters make decisions about land use and about each other. For local and regional book clubs, Susan Feathers is available to facilitate the discussion about The Land Ethic and the novel.
SEVEN STORIES SUGGESTED FOR DISCUSSION
UPDATE (DECEMBER 2015): Some book clubs have continued to read beyond the 7 novels listed above. These include:
N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn
Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible
Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow
Ann Pancake’s Strange As This Weather Has Been
Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World
GREEN FIRE FILM TRAILER:
WE SHALL REMAIN (PBS American Experience Miniseries) – Excellent history of Native American/Puritan relationships.
The Man Made of Words by N. Scott Momaday: “An American Land Ethic”, p. 42
N. Scott Momaday: Interviews. Scroll down an follow the video/audio.