Marshland Elegy

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This is the text of Leopold's essay "Marshland Elegy" paired with beautiful images. This presentation can be used as a backdrop to help illustrate public readings of the essay.

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Marshland Elegy

  1. 1. On this SlideShare page, you will find several Power Point presentations, one foreach of the most popular essays to read aloud from A Sand County Almanac atAldo Leopold Weekend events. Each presentation has the essay text right on theslides, paired with beautiful images that help add a visual element to publicreadings. Dave Winefske (Aldo Leopold Weekend event planner from Argyle,Wisconsin) gets credit for putting these together. Thanks Dave!A note on images within the presentations: we have only received permission touse these images within these presentations, as part of this event. You will see aphoto credit slide as the last image in every presentation. Please be sure to showthat slide to your audience at least once, and if you dont mind leaving it up toshow at the end of each essay, that is best. Also please note that we do not havepermission to use these images outside of Aldo Leopold Weekend reading eventpresentations. For example, the images that come from the Aldo LeopoldFoundation archive are not “public domain,” yet we see unauthorized uses ofthem all the time on the internet. So, hopefully that‟s enough said on this topic—ifyou have any questions, just let us know. mail@aldoleopold.orgIf you download these presentations to use in your event, feel free to delete thisintro slide before showing to your audience.
  2. 2. Marshland Elegy
  3. 3. A dawn wind stirs on the great marsh. With almost imperceptibleslowness it rolls a bank of fog across the wide morass. Like the whiteghost of a glacier the mists advance, riding over phalanxes oftamarack, sliding across bog meadows heavy with dew. A single silencehangs from horizon to horizon.
  4. 4. Out of some far recess of the sky a tinkling oflittle bells falls soft upon the listening land.Then again silence. Now comes a baying ofsome sweet-throated hound, soon the clamorof a responding pack. Then a far clear blast ofhunting horns, out of the sky into the fog.
  5. 5. High horns, low-horns, silence, and finally a pandemonium oftrumpets, rattles, croaks, and cries that almost shakes the bog with itsnearness, but without yet disclosing whence it comes‟
  6. 6. At last a glint of sun reveals the approach of a great echelon of birds.
  7. 7. On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arcof sky, and settle in clangorous descending spirals to their feedinggrounds. A new day has begun on the crane marsh.
  8. 8. A sense of time lies thick and heavy on such a place. Yearly since the iceage it has awakened each spring to the clangor of cranes. The peat layersthat comprise the bog are laid down in the basin of an ancient lake.
  9. 9. The cranes stand, as it were, upon thesodden pages of their own history.
  10. 10. These peats are the compressed remains of the mosses that clogged thepools, of the tamaracks that spread over the moss, of the cranes thatbugled over the tamaracks since the retreat of the ice sheet.
  11. 11. An endless caravan of generations has built of its own bones thisbridge into the future, this habitat where the oncoming host again maylive and breed and die.
  12. 12. To what end? Out on the bog a crane, gulpingsome luckless frog, springs his ungainly hulk intothe air and flails the morning sun with mightywings. The tamaracks re-echo with his bugledcertitude. He seems to know.
  13. 13. Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. Itexpands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yetuncaptured by language.
  14. 14. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyondthe reach of words.
  15. 15. This much, though, can be said: our appreciation of the crane growswith the slow Unraveling of earthly history. His tribe, we now know,stems out of the remote Eocene. The other members of the fauna inwhich he originated are long since entombed within the hills.
  16. 16. When we hear his call we hear no mere bird.We hear the trumpet in the orchestra ofevolution. He is the symbol of our untamablepast, of that incredible sweep of millenniawhich underlies and conditions the dailyaffairs of birds and men.
  17. 17. And so they live and have their being-these cranes-not in the constrictedpresent, but in the wider reaches of evolutionary time. Their annual returnis the ticking of the geologic clock.
  18. 18. Upon the place of their return they confer a peculiar distinction.
  19. 19. Amid the endless mediocrity of the commonplace, a crane marsh holdsa-paleontological patent of nobility, won in the march of aeons, andrevocable only by shotgun.
  20. 20. The sadness discernible in some marshes arises, perhaps, from theironce having harbored cranes. Now they stand humbled, adrift in history.
  21. 21. Some sense of this quality in cranes seems to have been felt bysportsmen and ornithologists of all ages. Upon such quarry as this theHoly Roman Emperor Frederick loosed his gyrfalcons.
  22. 22. Upon such quarry as this once swooped the hawks of Kublia Khan.Marco Polo tells us: He derives the highest amusement fromsporting with gyrfalcons and hawks.
  23. 23. At Changanor the Khan has a great Palace surrounded by a fine plainwhere are found cranes in great numbers. He causes millet and othergrains to be sown in order that the birds may not want:
  24. 24. The ornithologist Bengt Berg, seeing cranes as aboy upon the Swedish heaths, forthwith madethem his life work. He followed them to Africa anddiscovered their winter retreat on the White Nile.
  25. 25. He says of his first encounter: It was a spectacle which eclipsed theflight of the roc in the Thousand and One Nights.
  26. 26. When the glacier came down out of the north, crunching hills andgouging valleys, some adventuring rampart of the ice climbed theBaraboo Hills and fell back into the outlet gorge of the Wisconsin River.
  27. 27. The swollen waters backed up and formed a lake half as long as thestate, bordered on the east by cliffs of ice, and fed by the torrents thatfell from melting mountains. The shorelines of this old lake are stillVisible; its bottom is the bottom of the great marsh.
  28. 28. The lake rose through the centuries, finally spilling over east of theBaraboo range. There it cut a new channel for the river, and thus draineditself. To the residual lagoons came the cranes, bugling the defeat of theretreating winter, summoning the on-creeping host of living things to theircollective task of marsh-building. Floating bogs of sphagnum mossclogged the lowered waters, filled them. Sedge and leatherleaf, tamarackand spruce successively advanced over the bog, anchoring it by theirroot fabric, sucking out its water, making peat.
  29. 29. The lagoons disappeared, but not the cranes. To the moss-meadowsthat replaced the ancient waterways they returned each spring to danceand bugle and rear. their gangling sorrel-colored young.
  30. 30. These, albeit birds, are not properly called chicks, but colts. I cannotexplain why. On some dewy June morning watch them gambol overtheir ancestral pastures at the heels of the roan mare, and you will seefor yourself.
  31. 31. One year not long ago a French trapper in buckskins pushed his canoe upone of the moss-clogged creeks that thread the great marsh. At thisattempt to invade their miry stronghold the cranes gave vent to loud andribald laughter. A century or two later Englishmen came in coveredwagons.
  32. 32. They chopped clearings in the timbered moraines that border the marsh,and in them planted corn and buckwheat. They did not intend, like theGreat Khan at Changanor, to feed the cranes.
  33. 33. But the cranes do not question the intent of glaciers, emperors, orpioneers. They ate the grain, and when some irate farmer failed toconcede their usufruct in his corn, they trumpeted a warning andsailed across the marsh to another farm.
  34. 34. There was no alfalfa in those days, andthe hill-farms made poor hay land,especially in dry years. One dry yearsomeone set a fire in the tamaracks. Theburn grew up quickly to bluejoint grass,which, when cleared of dead trees, madea dependable hay meadow.
  35. 35. After that, each August, men appeared to cut hay. In winter, after thecranes had gone South, they drove wagons over the frozen bogs andhauled the hay to their farms in the hills. Yearly they plied the marshwith fire and axe, and in two short decades hay meadows dotted thewhole expanse.
  36. 36. Each August when the haymakers came to pitch their camps, singing anddrinking and lashing their teams with whip and tongue, the craneswhinnied to their colts and retreated to the far fastnesses.
  37. 37. „Red Shitepokes the haymakers called them, from the rusty hue whichat that season often stains the battleship-gray of crane plumage.
  38. 38. After the hay was stacked and the marsh again their own, the cranesreturned, to call down out of October skies the migrant flocks fromCanada. Together they wheeled over the newcut stubbles and raided thecorn until frosts gave the signal for the winter exodus.
  39. 39. These hay meadow days were the Arcadian age for marsh dwellers. Manand beast, plant and soil lived on and with each other in mutual toleration,to the mutual benefit of all. The marsh might have kept on producing hayand prairie chickens, deer and muskrat , crane-music and cranberriesforever. The new overlords did not understand this.
  40. 40. They did not include soil, plants, or birds in their ideas of mutuality. Thedividends of such a balanced economy were too modest. They envisagedfarms not only around, but in the marsh.
  41. 41. An epidemic of ditch-diggingand land-booming set in. Themarsh was gridironed withdrainage canals, speckledwith new fields andfarmsteads.
  42. 42. But crops were poor and beset byfrosts, to which the expensiveditches added an aftermath of debt.Farmers moved out. Peat beds dried,shrank, caught fire. Sun-energy outof the Pleistocene shrouded thecountryside in acrid smoke.
  43. 43. No man raised his voice against the waste, only his nose against thesmell. After a dry summer not even the winter snows could extinguish thesmoldering marsh. Great pockmarks were burned into field and meadow,the scars reaching down to the sands of the old lake, peat-covered thesehundred centuries. Rank weeds sprang out of the ashes, to be followedafter a year or two by aspen scrub.
  44. 44. The cranes were hard put, their numbers shrinking with the remnants ofunburned meadow. For them, the song of the power shovel came nearbeing an elegy. The high priests of progress knew nothing of cranes, andcared less. What is a species more or less among engineers? Whatgood is an undrained marsh anyhow?
  45. 45. For a decade or two crops grew poorer, fires deeper, wood-fields larger,and cranes scarcer, year by year. Only reflooding, it appeared, couId keepthe peat from burning.
  46. 46. Meanwhile cranberry growers had, by plugging drainage ditches,reflooded a few spots and obtained good yields. Distant politiciansbugled about marginal land, over-production, unemployment relief,conservation. Economists and planners came to look at the marsh.
  47. 47. Surveyors, technicians, CCCs, buzzed about. A counter-epidemic ofreflooding set in. Government bought land, resettled farmers, pluggedditches wholesale. Slowly the bogs are re-wetting. The firer pocksbecome ponds. Grass fires still burn, but they can no longer burn thewetted soil.
  48. 48. All this, once the CCC camps weregone, was good for cranes, but notso the thickets of scrub popple thatspread inexorably over the old bums,and still less the maze of new roadsthat inevitably follow governmentalconservation.
  49. 49. To build a road is so much simpler than to think of what the country reallyneeds. A roadless marsh is seemingly as worthless to the alphabeticalconservationist as an undrained one was to the empire-builders.Solitude, the one natural resource still undowered of alphabets, is so far
  50. 50. Thus always does history, whether of marsh or market place, end inparadox. The ultimate value in these marshes is wildness, and the craneis wildness incarnate. trumpet his farewell and spiral skyward from thegreat marsh.
  51. 51. But all conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish wemust see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled,there is no wilderness left to cherish.
  52. 52. Some day, perhaps in the very process of our benefactions, perhaps inthe fullness of geologic time, the last crane will trumpet his farewell andspiral skyward from the great marsh.
  53. 53. High out of the clouds will fall the sound of hunting horns, the baying ofthe phantom pack, the tinkle of little bells, and then a silence never tobe broken, unless per chance in some far pasture of the Milky Way.
  54. 54. Photo Credits•Historic photographs: Aldo Leopold Foundation archives•A Sand County Almanac photographs by Michael Sewell•David Wisnefske, Sugar River Valley Pheasants Forever, Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, WisconsinEnvironmental Education Foundation, Argyle Land Ethic Academy (ALEA)•UW Stevens Point Freckmann Herbarium, R. Freckmann, V.Kline, E. Judziewicz, K. Kohout, D. Lee, K Sytma, R.Kowal, P. Drobot, D. Woodland, A. Meeks, R. Bierman•Curt Meine, (Aldo Leopold Biographer)•Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Education for Kids (EEK)•Hays Cummins, Miami of Ohio University•Leopold Education Project, Ed Pembleton•Bird Pictures by Bill Schmoker•Pheasants Forever, Roger Hill•Ruffed Grouse Society•US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Forest Service•Eric Engbretson•James Kurz•Owen Gromme Collection•John White & Douglas Cooper•National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)•Ohio State University Extension, Buckeye Yard and Garden Online•New Jersey University, John Muir Society, Artchive.com, and Labor Law Talk

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