By Howard Clifford

MMLT’s future depends on informed, passionate, inspired ambassadors. A quarter century ago Stephen Jay Gould presciently wrote: “We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love (but only appreciate in some abstract sense).

”Love grows out of relationships – in-depth authentic experiences.

Looking at the lives of conservation icons like Muir, Thoreau, Leopold, Goodall and Carson provides insights as to what is meant. Their lives became stirring messages so

powerful – so inspirational – they motivate us to experience nature for ourselves. Their message is inclusive, grounded in experience, involved heart and intellect and far beyond the grasp of any single discipline. Read More…

I love Einstein’s ability to put things into perspective. “The only source of knowledge is experience” – “Imagination is more important than knowledge” – “Intuition is the father of new knowledge while empiricism is the accumulation of old knowledge” – “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”

Thoreau stated “there is no power to see in the eye itself any more than in any other jelly.” “Objects are concealed from us because we do not bring our minds and eyes to bear on them” If you do not empty your mind you will only find what you are looking for. Thoreau looked deeply and his experience led to the astonishing insight “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” This unexpected truth spoke to our hearts and gave us a dream far bigger than ourselves.

Aldo Leopold’s academic background was not predictive of his future legendary status. It was a common experience, the killing of a wolf that inexplicably became an extraordinary experience. Watching the fierce, green light fade from the eyes of the dying wolf became a transcendent moment – something clicked in his brain and he began to “think like a mountain.” This was not science but he saw things through fresh eyes – a way of ecological thinking that affected many. It had the ring of authentic truth.

It wasn’t science alone that made Jane Goodall a conservation icon. She actually turned her back on the credo that only objectivity and detachment could yield uncontaminated truths. She came to know the chimpanzees by name. She saw them as subjects, not objects, and in so doing she came to love them. In so doing she opened our eyes and our hearts to greater truths.

Rachel Carson is a hero to me. What a gifted courageous woman. Her message without her impeccable science would have gone nowhere. But her truths went beyond science. She spoke to our hearts as well as to our intellect when she challenged us to imagine a Silent Spring – a Spring where no birds sang. Who would not weep over such a loss? This spoke truth to our souls. Urging us to make sure children experienced nature wasn’t for educational purposes alone. She wanted us to understand – to really understand “It is not half so important to know as to feel.” What a powerful truth. We knew she was speaking from personal experience, from her intellect and from her heart.

John Muir was friends with Asa Gray, Father of American Botany, Joseph LePlant, renown geologist, Charles Sargent, said to know more about trees than any living person, Louis Agassiz, the prodigious scholar of Earth’s natural history, John Burroughs, the esteemed nature writer, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, considered by many as the most influential American nature philosopher. Emerson honoured Muir by placing his name on his shortlist of the greatest men he had ever met.

Why was it Muir, instead of any of these towering figures, who became perhaps the highest regarded conservationist of all times? The University of Wisconsin provided a great start but what changed history was his immediate enrolment in what he called “The University of Wilderness”. He found “Nature to be the greatest teacher of all” Nature took him beyond what could be taught in academic halls.

He came to believe there was life and sentience in all creation including the rocks. Flowers became friends. Like Leopold, he had a transcendent moment, where he saw every flower being connected to everything else in the universe. However his transcendent moments were more often and more profound than Leopold’s. Some he couldn’t explain nor did he try to. It left him humbly knowing there was much beyond his ability to understand.

When he spoke about the need to save sacred places – wilderness temples, not created by human hands, it was not hyperbole but from heart-felt experience. When he uttered “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” we knew he spoke a profound truth. For who hasn’t at some time experienced a moment of being enraptured in beauty? We can’t explain it, can’t measure it, can’t replicate it but neither can we deny the power of the experience.

It is easy to understand that these nature-based experiences made these icons of conservation such great ambassadors for the Wildness Kingdom. They knew whereof they spoke – they experienced it. They continue to inspire us because our generation has felt the tug of nature sufficiently to know their messages rings true. Deep down in our own souls we know.

Part two of this Trilogy will discuss how many of these nature experienced insights are being confirmed.