This is a love story, a story about people who love the land to their very cores and who are willing to go to great lengths, any lengths, to share that deep feeling of stewardship with others.
Like Luann Waters, who drove 18 hours from Oklahoma with hundreds of pounds worth of cast iron dutch overs to show how to cook outdoors [awesome grub]. Or Minnesotans Ed and Sil Pembleton, who spend too much time living out of duffels like vagabonds in order to spread the gospel of Aldo Leopold.
Rick Lopez from Indiana, Glenn Savage from Illinois, Gretchen Kruse from Wisconsin, and many fine hands from around Ohio. They all set aside other things to come and tell their chapters of the story about loving the land.
It is about the Leopold Education Project of Pheasants Forever, a special edition of which was conducted last weekend at Camp Widewater along the Maumee River near Liberty Center and in habitat-rich fields lovingly stewarded for years by the Wood/Lucas Chapter of PF in Wood County.
Sessions ranged the outdoor universe, from the aforementioned covered wagon-style cooking to modern GPS use in the field, reading wildlife and other "sign" in winter and in various landscapes, wingshooting 101, and enough more to make your head spin if you try to take it all in with one gulp.
In a way it was a virtual three-ringed circus, inasmuch as three workshops were under way at once. One, which stretched from Thursday evening to Sunday noon, was aimed at training 26 facilitators, from all points of Ohio and from New York state, on how to go forth and spread the gospel.
Another, aimed at 10 educators in Ohio and Michigan, endeavored to train teachers to take the message into the classroom. Pheasants Forever has adopted a No Child Left Indoors™ initiative, part of a national movement aimed at getting youth unplugged from electronics and turned on to the outdoors, nature, and wildlife in their communities.
The third element was a first -- a second, possibly. It was a hybrid deal called a hunting sports/LEP workshop which aimed to expose already ethical, safe gamebird hunters -- leaders in PF youth hunts -- to the educational side of the land ethic -- loving the land -- as so beautifully and soulfully espoused by Aldo Leopold. Indeed, it was Leopold's thoughtful essays and reflections that form the undercurrent to the PF/LEP activities.
Leopold is regarded as the father of modern wildlife management and an ecological prophet. He died in 1948, while fighting a brush fire on a neighbor's hardscrabble farm on the Wisconsin River in central Wisconsin. He never saw his landmark book of essays, A Sand County Almanac, published. But over the years the collection gained traction and it has sold millions of copies, worldwide, including translations.
If A Sand County Almanac is new territory for you, ask for Santa Claus to put a copy in your Christmas stocking. Then read it, believe it, love it. It is multilayered and deep, though its reflections and insights are fresh as new fallen snow.
"It's only the second time that I know of," said Ed Pembleton about conduct of a hybrid-style workshop for hunters, done in conjunction with the renowned youth of the Wood/Lucas Chapter of PF.
Don Schooner, the only president that Wood/Lucas PF ever has known in its 23 years may have said it best during an in-between sessions conversation:
"It is hard to verbalize how important it is to get sportsmen and nonsportsmen together for a common goal. The importance of the education component is foremost. We have to focus on it to be certain that the habitat we plant [PF] will remain. This is what we've worked for, for 22 years [and counting]."
Schooner went on to enthuse about the LEP, Leopold's land ethic, and PF's habitat restoration philosophy, "meshing together to form the fabric of conservation. You can't have one without the others. We've been beating the drum for so long [for loving the land], the time is now."
Schooner said PF chapters and the public at large need to become involved in LEP programs. He noted as well, "it's a great way for chapters to get members that they never even though about."
Indeed, last weekend's event brought together hunters, nonhunters, vegetarians, meat-eaters, folks of all stripes -- working together for a larger cause.
Lou Best, who for 17 years has coordinated the Wood/Lucas PF annual youth hunt -- 2011's held last Saturday for 79 young guns and their adult mentors -- seconded Schooner's motion. "The one thing that we tried to do with this event was to make it a multichapter, even district-wide, event.
I think LEP lends itself to multiple chapter areas.
"To a degree, we were successful. The Erie-Ottawa-Sandusky chapter donated $1,000 to the cause, and sent three chapter members to the hybrid event. Henry County sent two members to the hybrid event, and Seneca County sent one member to the hybrid event and one to the educator workshop." Who knows, next year maybe all the PF chapters in Ohio will get connected. It was an excellent start.
The foregoing all boils down to this: You love what you know. If you do not know the "land" (collectively the water, the air, the terra firma, the plants and animals) you will not love it. Indeed, you will neglect it, depersonalize it, use it and then abuse it.
That was the essence of Leopold's prophetic message more than 60 years ago. It is ever more so today. You can get on board online at lep.org and pheasantsforever.org. And be reading Leopold's Almanac.
Contact Steve Pollick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.