“A March morning,” writes Aldo Leopold, “is only as drab as he who walks in it without a glance skyward, ear cocked for geese.” Before reading these words, I had initially drafted the beginning of this letter with some thoughts (well, complaints) about the way that the Spring Equinox here at latitude 42° north can oscillate anywhere between feeling like an extension of the dead of winter or a balmy proto-summer, depending on the year — or the day. Instead, I stopped worrying about the weather a few weeks ago and followed Leopold’s advice: I started to look for geese.
When I finally found the first geese of the year — who were diligently poking around some frozen grass remains by the river — I was reminded of another passage from Leopold: “The country records may allege that you own this pasture, but the plover airily rules out such trivial legalities.” Of course, I don’t purport to own the river watershed weaving through my city. (Given its ecological condition, one might describe it as ‘tragedy of the commons’ and void of any human ownership at all.) But the geese apparently don’t care one iota what any humans think about ownership or real estate. As far as geese are concerned, the river belongs to them — as much as anything ‘belongs’ to geese — and their pretensions to the title deed seems less ridiculous than the humans who are self-deluded with the mythology that little sections of planet earth can be ‘owned’ by individual members of one particular species as property. Who owns the land? The humanoids slaving away to pay mortgages to other humanoids? Or the geese and plovers?
Over the last few months, my reading on simplicity has led me into several older texts on nature, agriculture, and the countryside. Hence how I ended up discovering and reading Aldo Leopold, quoted above. There is a long tradition of discovering simplicity by rediscovering the basics of nature, or, vice versa: rediscovering the basics of nature by isolating the theoretical essence of simplicity. These are like two paths that seem to meet eventually.
There is absolutely nothing new or revolutionary about the above paragraph. For readers of Henry David Thoreau, it probably only rings as a rather pathetic paraphrase. Part of discovering simplicity is the humble acknowledgement that ideas do not need to be new or ‘original’ to be provocative and compelling. On this point, the stampede for all things purporting originality strikes me as tiresome: not unlike running in a circle indefinitely.
For those interested in following along, my reading list on these themes has expanded significantly since my last letter. Indeed, my ‘writing project’ on simplicity has morphed (expanded?) into a ‘reading project’ on simplicity, and I am, simply, in no hurry to rush back into writing. And this reading project might be a lifetime affair, who knows? But to stay engaged here, I will venture back with another check-in on the Summer solstice. The thoughts, reading suggestions, questions, and anecdotes you share in the correspondence are wonderfully informative and valuable. Thanks for being along for the journey.