Aldo Leopold, Landscape & Ethics

Walking across town to the veterinary clinic to pick up some medicine for the dog, I observe the changes made to the landscape two days ago by a severe storm. The thunderstorm came with torrential rains and a solid five-hour flash flood warning.  Dirt, gravel, brush and a lot of trash have been rearranged.  There are a few puddles that the birds are still taking advantage of—as though each reservoir of precious water is a three-star-resort’s bathing pool in some forgotten Eastern European town—a real spa affair.


City crews put their backs into shoveling debris from around the openings of the storm-sewer’s drainage system.  Everyone is glad for the mild spring weather.

As I amble down one street, an area of active revitalization, new plants are being set in around trees and in one neglected earthen bed. Mounds of urban dirt are turning green with welcoming arrangements of miniature shrubs and perennial flowers.  The effort put into landscaping over the past five years has made a remarkable difference in softening the edge of social attitude toward this area of the city.

A new tea shoppe, where well-heeled members from the south-end of town now venture out for safe daylight jaunts (to enjoy sweet iced tea and light lemon cakes), is doing a booming business. All spit and polish, the cars in front of the shoppe have trunks waiting to be loaded with a little north-end kitsch, hand-dyed garments or some other off-beat booty.

Passing one of the landscaping crew, I thank the man pulling weeds. He sends me to express my gratitude to the main contractor, a woman, walking my way, “The arrangements and selection of plants you have made look great.  Your work has made a real difference.  Thank you.”

Beyond the store-fronts, I go through another residential area behind the clinic. An empty box carried by the storm from who-knows-where is waiting to be used.  I commit to cleaning up a half-a-block’s worth of trash caught against a fence.  Partway through, I meet a snake sunning a yard away.  We say hello, and he gets to keep the dark plastic bag next to him.  It may be acting as a heat sink and point of comfort for his body.  I wish that were all anybody ever wanted—a place to feel safe while soaking up the sun.

With the box full, six blocks remain on my trip. Aware of my status as a pedestrian (in an automotive society) in a raucously large sunhat (sunhats of this stature were hip circa 1972) and sporting my favorite walking sneakers (fresh from the laundry), I realize that by all external appearances I am just another one of those colorful, local personalities who populates the sketchier neighborhoods on the north end of town.  Yet, on the inside, my heart is all spit and polish for one concern:  this precious landscape.