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A Leopold Biography - Part I

Interview With Marybeth Lorbiecki


Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold

Leopold Education Project

Marybeth Lorbiecki lives, writes, and gardens in Hudson, Wisconsin. She is the author of Aldo Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire and John Burrough's award winning biography for children, Of 'Things Natural, Wild, and Free: A Story about Aldo Leopold . Her other environmental titles include Earthwise at Home , Earthwise at Play , and Earthwise at School .

Lets talk with Ms. Lorbiecki in part one of this three part interview:

Q: Marybeth, thanks for doing this interview.

I was introduced to Aldo Leopold in 1971 in forestry school at the University of Georgia. I was majoring in wildlife biology and a very practical professor made A Sand County Almanac required reading. It changed my life. How did you find out about Aldo Leopold?

Marybeth Lorbiecki : Most people seem to come to Leopold through his writing -- usually the Almanac ( A Sand County Almanac ). Strangely enough, I came by way of his life through Curt Meine's biography, Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work .

Q: Tell me about Curt Meine.

Marybeth Lorbiecki : Curt was a friend of my husband, and after Curt's book was sent to the Pulitzer Prize nominating committee, I thought, "If anyone I know has written a book of this caliber, I had better read it." I had never heard of Leopold and didn't know if I would be interested, but I thought, what do I have to lose? (Just five years of research and writing/rewriting.)

Curt's book was so incredible that I was snagged. Since I was an editor of children's books, I told Curt that he should do a bio for kids on Leopold, and he said that was my line, not his. So I took up the challenge and began researching him for myself. I began with an interview with Nina (Aldo Leopold's daughter) to get a feel for the humanness behind all the facts. From there I spent time in the archives, picking and choosing items to look at in a very personal, almost whimsical way. Curt had already done the definitive biography, so I was free to mill around selecting things that interested me and that I thought would interest young readers.

The result was Of Things Natural, Wild, and Free: A Story about Aldo Leopold , (Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis, 1993), which won a John Burroughs Book Award.

I had so much research left over, and I was still too taken with the man to rest until more people knew of him. So I was determined to do a young adult biography. This evolved into "A Fierce Green Fire", which I feel is meant for general and professional audiences, as well as young adults.

Q: Your access to personal photography and documents is the best I've seen surrounding Aldo Leopold's life experience. How did you get to use these?

Marybeth Lorbiecki : For Leopold photographs, I sorted through all those in the archives at the University of Wisconsin Madison and the Aldo Leopold Foundation with Nina's permission. I chose those that appealed to me and exemplified aspects of Leopold's character that couldn't be described in text. Also I loved the character of Estella and wanted to show her -- why Aldo loved her and how large a place she played in who he became.

Regarding the other photos, I decided upon which aspects of the story needed some pictorial representation, and then I went searching high and low to find them. I wanted people to be able to skim the story of early conservation and Aldo Leopold by glancing through the photos. There are so many more that I wanted to include but could not, for various reasons. So in my memory, the images that are missing also have a place. But I believe the condensed version makes its own powerful statement.

As for my relationships with Curt and Nina -- I have deep respect, gratitude, and caring for both. We keep in touch, as best possible. Curt is the godfather of my youngest daughter, Mirjana who is 15 months old.

Q: I want to save some specific questions on Aldo Leopold for the second part of this interview. Let's set the stage by illuminating the conditions and era he was developing in and how he was influenced by Gifford Pinchot - maybe even how he improved on Pinchot's conservation.

How do you see the terms "wise use" and "multiple use" from the varying perspectives of Pinchot and Leopold?

Marybeth Lorbiecki : I see both of these terms in the context of an evolving understanding of what conservation really entails. Gifford Pinchot was a groundbreaker who wanted to conserve our national forests, and he defined this challenge from a philosophical and scientific perspective that was pioneering for his time, but quite limited from Leopold's later understanding.

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