What They’ve Said: Meditations on Nature

from Wildlife Promise

Moonrise near Homer Alaska by Doug Kaufman

Alaskan moonrise by Doug Kaufman

Here are some thoughts—bestowed on us by various scholars, sages, theorists, etc. down through the years—that comment on or raise questions about nature, animals, conservation and related topics. Some of these observations are inspirational; many are just perspectives from a particular view point that bespeak the ways in which people relate to what is sometimes called, with more truth than accuracy, the natural world.  They may give you a “hmmm” moment.

This collection is the first segment of a two-part installment of such thoughts.  Look for the second installment, which will feature quotations on animals, wild lands and reverence for nature, next week.  I’ve marked members of the NWF Conservation Hall of Fame with an asterisk and have linked their names to information about them.

Relating to Nature

Haleakala National Park Maui by Frank M. Virga

Maui by Frank M. Virga

“If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent Van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo

“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

“I enjoyed the mountains, as I rode along. The views are magnificent—the valleys so beautiful, the scenery so peaceful.  What a glorious world Almighty God has given us.  How thankless and ungrateful we are, and how we labor to mar his gifts.” – Confederate general Robert E. Lee writing to his wife about his travels in West Virginia, quoted in Flora and Fauna of the Civil War by Kelby Ouchley

“What did it all mean . . . that there should be this beauty, so ever-varying, so soul-sufficing, so complete, and face to face with it these people who one and all would gladly have exchanged it for any one of a hundred other things…” – Edith Wharton

“It appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature.  Those qualities which bring you near to the one estrange you from the other.” – Henry David Thoreau*, Journal, April 11, 1852

“I love not man the less, but nature more.” – Lord Byron, “Apostrophe to the Ocean”

A Michigan Wetland by Sara L Herzog

Michigan Wetland by Sara L. Herzog

Conservation

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” - Aldo Leopold*, A Sand County Almanac

“If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.  As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down.” – Henry David Thoreau*

“A continent ages quickly once we come to it.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Green Hills of Africa

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.  Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen.  An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” – Aldo Leopold*, A Sand County Almanac

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” – Henry David Thoreau*, letter to Harrison Blake, May 20, 1860

“There seems to be a tacit assumption that if grizzlies survive in Canada and Alaska, that is good enough.  It is not good enough for me. . . .  Relegating grizzlies to Alaska is about like relegating happiness to heaven; on may never get there.” -  Aldo Leopold*, A Sand County Almanac

“A pine cut down, a dead pine, is no more a pine than a dead carcass is a man.  Can he who has discovered only some of the values of whalebone and whale oil be said to have discovered the true use of the whale?  Can he who slays the elephant for his ivory be said to have ‘seen the elephant?’  These are petty and accidental uses; just as if a stronger race were to kill us in order to make buttons and flageolets of our bones; for everything may serve a lower as well as a higher use.  Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.” - Henry David Thoreau*, The Maine Woods

“When I hear of the destruction of a species I feel just as if the works of some great writer has perished; as if we had lost all instead of only part of Polybius or Livy.” – Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in Frank M. Chapman’s Autobiography of a Bird-Lover

“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.”
- Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Afternoon on a Hill”

“When the desires of men are curbed,
There will be peace,
And the world will settle down
Of its own accord.”
- Tao Teh Ching

Next week: Animals, Wild Lands and Reverence for Nature