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Human Interaction With Nature In The Works Of Aldo Leopold And Elizabeth Bishop

1583 words - 6 pages

Human Interaction with Nature in the Works of Aldo Leopold and Elizabeth Bishop

The poet Elizabeth Bishop and the naturalist Aldo Leopold share a keen power of
observation, a beautifully detailed manner of writing, a love for the beauty of nature, and an interest in how people interact with the natural world. Like Leopold, Bishop examines human interactions with nature on both the personal and the ecological level. On the individual level, a hunter’s contact with the animal he or she is hunting changes his or her attitude toward nature in both Bishop’s poem “The Fish” and Leopold’s essay “Thinking Like a Mountain.” On the larger level, both Bishop in her poem “The Mountain” and Leopold throughout the Sand County Almanac envision the role of human beings in relation to the rest of the natural world as one of exploration and interpretation through science and art.

In both Bishop’s “The Fish” and Leopold’s “Thinking Like a Mountain,” the
person’s contact with a wild animal comes about through hunting. In theory, hunting is a
sport, “a challenge of fang against bullet” (Leopold 129), in which the animal has a fair
chance of escaping. In reality, however, there is no real challenge for the hunter in either
case. Leopold and his companions, “pumping lead into the pack” (130), kill the wolf not
by skill but by the sheer number of bullets, while Bishop’s speaker testifies, “He didn’t
fight. / He hadn’t fought at all” (5-6). Thus, both call into question whether their hunting
is actually a sport.

Both Leopold and Bishop’s speaker are initially unaware of the true value of the
creatures they hunt. Leopold writes, “I thought that because fewer wolves meant more
deer, that no wolves would mean hunter’s paradise” (130). Bishop’s speaker, with her
detailed and evocative visual descriptions of the fish, seems more sensitive to its
significance, but when she looks into the fish’s eyes and it does not look back at her, it is
clear that she has not yet made a connection with the fish. For both narrators, this lack of
emotional connection changes when they notice some striking detail about the wolf or
fish which awakens them to the symbolic value of the animal and transforms their way of
relating to nature. Leopold sees “a fierce green fire dying” (130) in the eyes of the wolf
and senses that his neat equation of fewer wolves equals more deer is inadequate, and that
wolves have an importance unknown to him. He goes on to develop a new conservation
ethic, one that values wolves as well as deer and protects wild animals for their own sake
and that of the ecosystem, not just for the pleasure of hunters. Bishop’s speaker notices
five fishhooks dangling from the fish’s mouth and realizes how many times the fish has
battled for its life and won. Its fighting spirit earns her respect and causes her to release
the fish.

The particular symbolic value that each writer finds in the wild animal is evident
in his or her beautifully poetic...

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