A Wilderness Science and Art Collaboration

Aldo & Leonardo, a partnership between Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, is a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The project is inspired by the scientific wisdom of Aldo Leopold and the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Our endeavor is an interdisciplinary collaboration of artists and scientists designed to celebrate the lands, resources and opportunities protected by the Wilderness Act. In 2013, we are hosting one-month residencies in six diverse wilderness areas. Artists will work alongside wildland research scientists and gain firsthand knowledge of the wonders, complexities and challenges of our nation's wildest places. The result will be a body of work that creatively illustrates the value of wild areas and honors the scientific efforts to preserve wilderness for the next fifty years.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Peace of Wild Things

by Andrea Spofford

"The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
Brooks Mountain Range
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come to the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Beach Bonfire
In the Noatak Wilderness the sun and moon rise at the same time, two bodies circling each other as a lasso around the Brooks Mountain Range to the North, and the Chukchi Sea to the Southwest. An Arctic sunset is but a stopping point--the sun moves behind the mountains and waits, darkened slightly but not disappearing, the gray light I've become accustomed to dimming as it becomes the night sky. The stars here are day-blind, their light still pulsing above us but invisible in their sparseness, the only sign of night the moon itself. We built a fire to cook and smoke the fish we caught and stoked it with driftwood collected at each ice line--the place in the sand and stones where detritus is pushed upward by ice each winter. On the banks of this lake there were at least three distinct lines, markers of winter during a time of warmth. The surrounding lakes, too, those of sunken and melting permafrost, those were markers as well, though one morning we woke up so cold nobody wanted to leave their tent.

Mike and I arrived at the lake first and the quiet, after our float plane took off again, was immense. It was almost a vacuum of silence, an ambivalent lack of noise broken soon by the calls of loons. We could hear the engine of the plane for awhile and then nothing but the wind and loons in the distance, those hermitic birds that are difficult to see and whose eggs you'll find first, before you see the birds themselves. Their calls sound mournful, but I hesitate to personify them that way. This quiet--even with the loons, the foxes speaking to one another, the wind, and the outflow of water in the distance--is complete. Days later I walked up the hill while Mike and I waited to be picked up and only a few feet beyond the bear fence the music we were listening to got quieter; only a few feet further and I couldn't hear it at all. There were no distant motors, or pile-drivers, or construction noises; no people talking, doors slamming, or cars starting; there were no creaking houses, or buzzing streetlights, or helicopters, or even planes, and all of that is a good thing--this was the most silent place I have ever been. 

Kotzebue Sound
After I have been outside I worry even more about natural things, and I understand the despair that Berry talks about. We need these silent places so that we can "rest in the grace of the world," and we need to protect this grace. When we got back to town we had dinner with a most excellent and interesting group of people--social workers, anthropologists, archaeologists, botanists, soil scientists, teachers, and more--and this was good too. At midnight we took a boat ride across the sound and as we pushed the boat into the water, there was almost no horizon line--the sky and water met seamlessly. The moon was rising as the sun was setting and both would soon circle around us. The next morning we picked blueberries for hours and as I lay in the tundra and filled my bucket with berries, I realized how free I am. I am thankful for these small moments, these days that blur the line between sea and sky.


  1. Amazing photo of the Kotzebue Sound!

  2. Thanks Ryan! It was such a perfect night. That's at about 12:30-ish a.m.