Monday, June 02, 2014

Aldo Leopold Pilgrimmage

Aldo Leopold Cabin - Tres Piedras, NM
Most people have heard of the leaders in the conservation movement - John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and Rachel Carson. Yet few people have heard of one of the most influential voices of the 20th Century, Aldo Leopold, author of Sand County Almanac.  In 1912-1913, he worked for the Forest Service here, and built a house for $650. He didn't live in it long, and it decayed over the 100 years since he lived there.

Aldo Leopold is Dick's hero. We went to the Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, WI, and he returned for training as a Land Ethics Leader. He has presented the movie Green Fire many times, to acquaint people in Kentucky with Leopold's works. He ran across this video on YouTube about the restoration of Leopold's New Mexico house, so we called the Forest Service ranger station and arranged to visit it this morning. Not just a "visit," but more like a pilgrimage for my dear husband.
Front Porch View
Just imagine living here when there were no cars on the road, nor power lines interrupting your view of the snow capped mountains on the horizon. We don't know for sure why he left so soon, Dick plans to look into that.
Leopold Living Room
On a cold autumn day, he would come in from the barn, after taking care of his horse, and warm up before a fire in the living room.

After dinner, he might sit at his small desk, typing a report or just his thoughts on the day. He was a lifelong hunter and fisherman, and kept detailed logs of where he went and what he found there each day.
Dick on Leopold Bench
For my husband, this was an emotional day, re-living experiences of his hero. Not many even have a hero, let alone get to visit parts of his life. 
Green-tailed Towhee
While at the ranger station, another couple came in early this morning. They were birders, they announced, and were looking for Grace's Warblers and Grey Vireos reported nearby on eBird. Dick and I smiled. We've had this happen before on vacation. After introducing ourselves, we invited Mack and Aram from Maine, to meet the spirit of Aldo Leopold at the cabin, then we'd go birding with them. Off we drove on the unpaved Forest Service roads up into the mountains. I'm so glad this car we rented has good options for low gear driving in the mountains! I sure used them today. They stopped and we pulled over too. "We heard Grace," they said. I was very impressed with these folks, who had driven down from birding in Colorado already. They knew Virginia's Warbler, Grace's Warbler and Grey Vireos by song only! I saw a bird in a tree, but it was a Robin - you never expect to see these familiar birds in unfamiliar locations. Another bird shook the branches and Aram declared - Green Tailed Towhee! I needed it to make a Towhee hat trick, and we chased it around until I saw it.
Western Bluebird
After the thrill of the chase wore down, we decided to return to Leopold's cabin and eat lunch on his porch. The breeze was pleasant and the view spectacular. But I put my sandwich down when I saw this little Western Bluebird (a first) on the branch not 10 feet away. Does it look like this bird has a brood patch on its belly?  Females pull out some feathers so bare skin can be on the eggs during incubation. I think this looks like a male, but maybe they sit on the eggs too.
Cassin's Vireo
Mack and Aram searched for Grey Vireos on the mountain. Now, I'll be honest. When it comes to sparrows and vireos (among others) I think they all look the same. But I can recognize the cadence of a vireo call, so when I heard one from the porch, I browsed through my phone app for New Mexico vireos, trying the various calls to see what matched. Glorioski! This little bird came zooming up to the same tree just vacated by the Bluebird, and challenged me to mortal combat! Not only did he respond to the Cassin's Vireo call, he matches all the descriptions. Ah, victory is sweet, but I left him as the winner after a few good photos. Thanks, little bird! That makes 4 life birds today - the Green Tailed Towhee, Grace's Warbler, Western Bluebird and Cassin's Vireo. Life is good!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Talk about validation-seeing Aldo Leopold's New Mexico home filled me with joy for all the connections with nature we are so fully experiencing in our lives in Kentucky and traveling.
Kathy's traveling companion