A Signature On The Land

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In September 1954 a number of admirers, including several Wilderness Society officials and Sen. Clinton Anderson of New Mexico, tried to pay the memory of Aldo Leopold appropriate tribute. Under a sky beginning to boil with increasingly black clouds and in the teeth of a wind that rattled their vehicles, they drove out to a site on the high edge of the GiIa Wilderness where the Forest Service had erected a plaque commemorating the implementation of Leopold’s wilderness proposal thirty years before. It had started to rain fiercely by the time Anderson started his speech. “The work of Aldo Leopold has been done,” he intoned before a microphone that threatened to topple with every blast of wind. “We now become trustees of his inheritance.” Before much longer the storm made it impossible to continue, and as the participants “scurried for their cars,” according to the Silver City Press , the Wilderness Society’s Howard Zahniser summed up the program by calling it a “glorious elemental occasion.”

Leopold, who was not much for ceremony anyway, probably would have been amused by the debacle. He almost certainly would have taken greater satisfaction from the fact that A Sand County Almanac is still in print and that there now exists, thirty years after passage of the Wilderness Act, nearly seven hundred designated areas in the National Wilderness Preservation System—in all, more than a hundred million acres of land whose communities of life are, by law, to remain untrammeled by human enterprise. That would bring a smile to his ghost. Indeed, he might even conclude that we, like this forest ranger turned wilderness prophet, finally had learned to think like a mountain.