(Title adapted from Rainer Marie Rilke)
Not long ago in human memory, Aldo Leopold was in the adrenalin rush of his career. Tasked with getting a mountain in tip-top shape for deer hunting, he wondered if killing off the wolf would make for a hunters’ paradise. One afternoon, watching a young pack welcome an old wolf “with a melee of wagging tails and playful maulings,” he saw the mother wolf die. “We never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack….When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down. We reached her in time to watch a fierce green fire die in her eyes….I realized then that there was something new in those eyes, known only to her and to the mountain….seeing her and the green fire die I sensed that neither she nor the mountain would agree with [my] view.”
Beholding the cascading destruction of his “over the top” zeal, Aldo Leopold came into communion with the mountain. Embedded in deep time, mountain intelligence reverberated freshly within Leopold’s awakening. Over population of one species becomes a defoliated mountain, “the starved bones of the hoped-for herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of dead sage….”
This is more than a cautionary tale. Don’t you see the possibility of new love stories? Where previously, killing off the enemy seemed good enough for the “happily ever after” effect, Leopold developed the land ethic by “thinking like a mountain”. The climate crisis now urges the unfolding of a planetary ethic.
Adaptive measures to climate disruption are the talk of the moment. Widely touted plans preserving comforts for the humanly privileged, but not by any count creating the greatest good for the greatest number may be akin to “We never knew heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf.” The ethical challenge now upon us is to bring to light that which is hidden: to think like a planet.
Reimagining how we are to live as Earthlings is undoubtedly a stretch. But it is also raw necessity: noticing the sparrow who falls; the civilizations crumbing; the mother hen, with tenderness gathering blind destructive powers under her wing. Thinking like our planet infuses gospel stories with new vigor.
The prairie, the plains, forests, deserts, the waters, estuaries, the night sky, emerging cultures of food and place are no longer used as backdrops to buttress communion with the Divine; they become what we are to contemplate. Absorbing their revelatory pulse widens our stunted identities. These are Earth communities -some severe, some sweet, all verbs, voices, summoning us, stirring faith, spawning a felt possibility of humans re-inhabiting Earth. Streaming through the pores of our skin are ecotones of new psalms; praises we never knew that we knew reweave our ruptured selves with the land, our holy mother. Humility rouses us to participate actively, reverently as sacramental beings. There is nothing not kin in this sacramental revelation. An inner climate change indeed.
The eye of fierce green fire welcomes the vista of moral virtues developing in response to climate chaos: gratitude to those who photosynthesize; reciprocity, choosing to invest our love in healing relationships with each other and with the land; self-restraint through ecological practices building communities of peace and economies protecting the abundance and variety of other lives; intergenerational justice transforming our “too-much” fear into legacies of reverence; moral courage creating a world beyond war. (KDMoore and RKimmerer)
In the vast immediacies of our moment leaps a new ethic of planetary affection. Midwife like a planet, no matter the cost, no matter the outcome.