The man behind the first wildlife management program is coming to town. His name is Aldo Leopold, he was born in the 1880s, and he’s a conservationist, essayist, and philosopher. He’ll be resurrected on stage Thursday by Jim Pfitzer, who turned actor for the cause of adapting Leopold’s life and his book of essays “A Sand County Almanac” to the stage.
“I think that throughout Leopold’s career he was struggling with the intersection of human progress and wildness. From his very first job with the forest service in the Arizona territory, he started seeing how we had managed forests for maximum yield of game or maximum yield of timber or perhaps both, and the way we were trying to do that is to upset the balance.”
The essays in “A Sand County Almanac” resonated with Pfitzer, who says even as a young man he felt a strong connection to nature.
“My grandfather had a cabin on Possum creek in Tennessee and I would go there and spend all my time playing in the woods, catching crawdads in the creeks, fishing, and there things made sense. That’s where the world made sense to me. And then we’d get in the car to drive home, and I would feel assaulted by power lines and asphalt and neon lights.”
Pfitzer says in his youth someone suggested he read the book, and the first lines immediately struck him.
“In the foreword Leopold says ‘There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.’ And I said, that’s me, I’m one of those people who can’t live without wild things.”
Pfitzer is a nature enthusiast as much as a Leopold enthusiast. He says he used to work as an educator with a wildlife rehabilitation center and would tell personal stories, many about his experiences with animals. He says he started getting more demand for the stories, and he knew he wanted to use Leopold’s life and work for storytelling material.
“This is the guy who made sense of all of this for me. I needed to be able to tell his story, but it was a terribly daunting task, because for all of his brilliance as an observational scientist, Leopold was an equally brilliant poetic writer, and I didn’t know how to present this poetry without memorizing it.”
He says he saw his storytelling career go downhill following the financial crisis of 2008, and so he changed tactics. He sold his house, and used the money to research Leopold and write his story, which he eventually realized was best told through a one-man play.
He says he debuted the piece in 2012 and he’s been performing it ever since. On Thursday, Pfitzer with help from the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge will bring the play free-of-charge to the Gerald C Wilson Auditorium drama pod. It’ll begin at 7 p.m., and a Q & A will follow.