Fire on the Mountain

Ecology Gets its Narrative Totem


  • Gavin Van Horn Center for Humans and Nature



green fire, ecological worldview, wolves, narrative myth, biosphere, Henry David Thoreau, Ernest Thompson Seton


Aldo Leopold’s essay ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’ was more than a parable about a redemptive personal moment; it was the fruition of a larger effort on Leopold’s part to effectively communicate the fundamentals of a ‘land ethic’. I explore striking narrative antecedents to Leopold’s ‘green ?re’ moment, including writings by Henry David Thoreau and Ernest Thompson Seton, and articulate why wolves provided the quintessential totem animal for communicating a larger ecological ‘drama’. Both these literary antecedents and the essay’s ongoing—sometimes surprising—impacts are worth exploring, not just because of the high regard in which the essay itself is held but because Leopold succeeded in navigating a problem that persists in our own time: the gap between scienti?cally informed understandings of the world and effectively communicating those understandings to the public.

Author Biography

Gavin Van Horn, Center for Humans and Nature

Director of Midwest Cultures of Conservation, Center for Humans and Nature.


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How to Cite

Van Horn, G. (2011). Fire on the Mountain: Ecology Gets its Narrative Totem. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 5(4), 437–464.