"When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men."—"Marshland Elegy" by Aldo Leopold
When he died in 1948, Aldo Leopold’s thoughts on wildlife conservation were so far advanced that it would take almost 75 years for society to catch up.
Leopold, a man of many hats, is portrayed in a one-man play called "Aldo Leopold—A Standard of Change," written and performed by Jim Pfitzer.
A performance of the play is Saturday, Aug. 31 at Barking Legs Theater. Curtain is 7 p.m.
Pfitzer said the play, which frequently mentions sandhill cranes, is more relevant than ever considering a decision last week by the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission to allow the hunting of the birds beginning Nov. 28.
"One of the things that we’re missing and have been missing is a recognition of where we’ve come," Pfitzer said. "If it weren’t for birders, biologists and hunters working together, we would’ve seen the sandhill crane of the eastern flyway go extinct years ago."
In his "Marshland Elegy," written in the 1940s, Leopold was essentially saying goodbye to the sandhill cranes after the destruction of the great marsh, which led to a decline in crane numbers. In it, he estimated that fewer than 400 sandhill cranes were left.
"When he wrote that, he was saying goodbye to cranes," Pfitzer said. "Unfortunately, he didn’t survive to see the heroic efforts that brought them back, which included a ban on hunting cranes."
According to Pfitzer, the ban helped revitalize the sandhill crane population, allowing for their resurgence and, once again, a modern debate over hunting them.
Leopold was a hunter for much of his life, but he also wrote what is widely considered the earliest textbooks on wildlife management. He also taught wildlife management and ecology at the University of Wisconsin, holding the world’s first academic chair in the former.
Famously, he developed a philosophical position called "land ethic," in which he encouraged humans to think differently and more expansively about the idea of community.
"That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics," Leopold wrote.
Pfitzer said that if he were around to see the debate today Leopold would just shake his head and grin.
"There’s just a blind eye turned to history," he said. "Now, we have the same factions fighting against each other over the same issue."
Pfitzer has been performing as Leopold since April 2012. He has traveled across the country to perform full versions and segments of the play.
Recently, he performed in front of Leopold’s daughter, which moved her to tears, he said.
What: "Aldo Leopold—A Standard of Change," a play by Jim Pfitzer
When: Saturday, Aug. 31, 7 p.m.
Where: 1307 Dodds Ave.
How much: $10, $8 with student ID
For more information: Click here
"There’s things I’m hoping to do," he said "I was just asked by a land trust if I would take just the 'Marshland Elegy' part of the play and create a short piece. I’ve also been asked to be an expert at an upcoming conference."
Pfitzer said he’s willing to do just about anything with the play, save for one thing.
"One thing I’m asked to do is to show up at an event as Leopold and just engage the audience," he said. "His thinking was just so far ahead of his time that if he were alive today it would still be 75 years ahead. I’m not that brilliant."
However, he said he’s more than willing to engage the audience as Jim Pfitzer.
The play uses stories of sandhill cranes, wolves and the grizzly bear to highlight our ill-informed wildlife management decisions.
According to the play’s website, "A Standard of Change" is set during one evening at Leopold’s Wisconsin cabin, which inspired much of his writing.
Tickets are $10; student tickets are $8 with a valid ID. More information is available here.
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