Chattanooga storyteller Jim Pfitzer will present his one-man play "Aldo Leopold – A Standard of Change," followed by a celebration of the conservation pioneer's 126th birthday, complete with live music, cake and a Leopold-themed raffle on Jan. 11. Both the play and the celebration will be at Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave.
Since Mr. Pftizer's play premiered in April in Chattanooga, he has performed it at Bonnaroo, the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Wisconsin and at venues in West Virginia, Minnesota and North Carolina.
Now according to Mr. Pfitzer, the pace of engagements is increasing dramatically as word of the play spreads. After the Jan. 11 celebration, he hits the road for eight shows in January and February in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
"I'm going to perform this show in as many places as I can," said Mr. Pfitzer, who has worked as a professional storyteller, naturalist and river guide. "I've had Leopold on my mind for a long time. He's been an influence since I first read him when I was 19 or 20."
Mr. Pfitzer began working on the play after he was asked to read an essay from his favorite conservationist for a fundraising event. Instead, he memorized Leopold's "Thinking Like A Mountain" and recited it from memory. "Once I had that essay down, I wanted to create a story," he recalled.
Months later, after researching Leopold he had lots of information but not a story. Then, while spending a few days in the Leopold archives at the Aldo Leopold Foundation, he found a letter to Mr. Leopold from a friend and former student, Albert Hochbaum, pushing him to be a more humble and human advocate and to admit that he had "blood on his hands."
"I realized then that the heart of the play was going to be Leopold's transformation from the chief architect of the predator eradication program out west to the man who was shouting we need to learn to think like mountains, we need to reintroduce these predators and recognize that they have an intrinsic value," said Mr. Pfitzer. "It had to be about this transformation and how it was directed by his relationship with Albert Hochbaum.
The play was praised by Buddy Huffaker, executive director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, who said, "A Standard of Change brings Leopold's life and vision of a Land Ethic into the present and looks to the future for audiences both new to Leopold and those that have long looked to him and A Sand County Almanac for guidance and inspiration."
Aldo Leopold lived from 1887-1948. As a scientist and forester, he was responsible for creating and implementing environmental policies that he later came to believe were misguided and harmful. Eventually, his ideas and advocacy played a role in the modern movement for wilderness conservation and wildlife management and in the development of what he called a "land ethic" that recognized and preserved the value of biodiversity and functional ecosystems. His book, A Sand County Almanac, which laid out his ideas and described this restoration of a degraded farm, became an environmental classic and has sold more than two million copies.
According to Jeannine Richards, communications coordinator for the Aldo Leopold Foundation, interest in Mr. Leopold has been increasing since the 2011 premier of Green Fire, a documentary film about Mr. Leopold and his call for a land ethic: "We’re definitely seeing an increase in interest in Leopold and in the Foundation from the film and some of our other programming, such as our Land Ethic Leaders program," a two-day training program that uses observation, participation and reflection to encourage community leaders across the country to explore and deepen their own land ethic in relation to others.
The documentary – which was produced by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service and the Center for Humans and Nature – has had over 1,000 public screenings in 50 states and 16 countries and has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Turkish.
When Mr. Pfitzer was researching the play, he spent two nights in the small cabin Mr. Leopold stayed in while restoring that land, which is now managed by the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Wisconsin. One of his January engagements will be at the Leopold Heritage Group in Burlington, Iowa, where he will spend the night in Mr. Leopold's childhood home.
Tickets are $10 at the door or $11 via Paypal. For more info on the play or to purchase tickets, visit www.astandardofchange.com.