Sil Pembleton and her husband, Ed, love the land in profound ways, and their enduring mission has been to share that lifelong passion with whomever will listen.
Saturday, the couple, who hail from Minnesota, had the chance to spread the land-ethic gospel in Bowling Green with a far-flung collection of educators and naturalists from as far away as Muncie, Ind., and Columbus, plus a gathering of 71 young hunters and their mentors.
The occasion was a joint program, a workshop of the renowned Leopold Education Project and the equally renowned annual Wood/Lucas Pheasants Forever youth hunt.
The LEP is an outreach program based on the teachings, writings and philosophy of the late Aldo Leopold, credited with articulating the principles of modern wildlife management and ecology. Leopold's classic Sand County Almanac, published 60 years ago, the year of his death, is a timeless, brilliant series of essays on loving the land. Its messages are never far from Sil Pembleton.
"My favorite Leopold quote is this: 'Once you learn to read the land, I have no fear of what you will do to it, and I know it will do many wonderful things for you'," she stated.
The Pembletons once did a lot of the heavy lifting on the LEP for Pheasants Forever, Ed as national director, Sil as Minnesota state coordinator. Now they are freelancing because, Sil says, money is not important to them but teaching the Leopold land ethic is.
It revolves around sustainability, "but it's very personal," Pembleton said.
She regarded the room filled with 19 seminar participants Saturday morning and said, "most of them are here because they care about kids and they are looking for alternatives. We want to help them get kids outdoors and developing inquiring minds and a sense of place."
One of them was Denise Gawrys of Muncie, Ind., who drove three hours to listen and learn. A librarian, she is involved in creating a native plants habitat on the facility grounds. "I need to learn more about this and get more involved," she noted, adding that the Leopold program was doing just that.
Having the LEP in town in conjunction with the PF youth hunt was the brainchild of Lou Best, the local PF chapter's longtime hunt coordinator.
"We want our kids to get the whole upland bird hunting experience, which includes safety, hunter responsibility and ethics, concepts and responsibilities, for conservation and developing land ethics, and social skills for the ethical hunter, including skills with other hunters, landownersw and the public in general," Best stated.
"We never have considered the kill count to be an important way to determine the quality of a hunt and we teach that top our kids."
The 62 boys and 9 girls who participated Saturday in either morning or afternoon hunts killed about 60 birds, and over the lunchtime program among other things they were shown how to field dress and prepare the gamebirds.
Sandwiched into the lunch break was a program by LEP participants, who had an opportunity as teachers to apply some simple techniques in nature observation. Breaking into four teams, they laid out gray tarps covered with all sorts of tracks, on which they dropped everything from feathers to litter to spent shotshells. They challenged the young hunters to observe and tells the stories that lie before them, based on an essay on January observations in Sand County.
"They did great," summed Lisa Houser, of Columbus, one of the LEP participants. "They did better than we did [in training]. They came up with 17 species and we had only 16."
"This chapter does just wonderful things," added Sil Pembleton at the luncheon sessions.
"Ed and I have the philosophy that if you can't reach the parents, you reach the kids, who carry this home. There are some people who call that brainwashing. So you have to tell people how to think, not what to think."
One of Leopold's most powerful essays in Sand County is "Thinking Like a Mountain," about wolves and deer and deforestation, and it certainly encourages the reader in how to think.
Leopold's students, Ed Pembleton notes, invariably point out his tremendous skill at posing questions that provoked thinking.
Participant KoAnn Rutter of Bowling Green was quite enthused at workshop's end. She said she is taking the ideas and teaching materials from the workshop back to Elmwood Schools, where she teaches. "I am inspired to proceed with planning an outdoor education area for the staff and students at Elmwood," she said.
The annual youth hunt, with the addition of this year's LEP workshop, took a daunting amount of organizational effort and cooperation among many volunteers. They do everything from arrange the hunts on various properties and provide fine hunting dogs and veteran instructors to cooking and preparing a hearty lunch.
To understand why they do it, it might pay to pick up and read a copy of A Sand County Almanac. Simply put, it's about caring, for both land and people.