Paul Andersen: Stuart Mace was ‘selfhood’ defying ‘mobbism’
There was a man who lived in our human community, a man who spoke evangelically for nature. He did so with the same assurance and sagacity as the sage of Walden.
Stuart Mace spoke for nature because nature’s voice is not heard by all. Only those who listen, feel and intuit the chorus of the living world are able to hear it in their hearts, minds and souls.
Mace was such a person, and he shared the gospel of nature with a message clear and certain. He spoke, and those who listened were often changed. His words are worthy of revisiting today.
A documentary made by PBS star Bill Moyers from 1974, “Living Free in the Mountains,” explored the world of Stuart Mace. That video transported the viewer into a beautiful winter landscape in Ashcroft where Stuart and his family lived at Toklat.
Moyers appreciated Mace’s alternative lifestyle in what Moyers called “selfhood vs. mobbism.” It was on the premise of revealing a man who followed Robert Frost’s road not taken that Moyers joined Mace on a dogsled trip into the winter wonderland of upper Castle Creek.
These are excerpts from their conversation and also from a talk Mace gave to a group of young naturalists at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies:
“We talk about birds fouling their nests. They dirty their nests and don’t keep them clean, and so they have to build a new nest each year and move on. We cannot keep fouling our nests. We cannot keep covering the green land.
“I came here because I wanted to keep my children busy and happy, and to follow my feeling that you have to build a whole person, the body, the mind and the imagination. You have to build all those things in a young person.
“You can’t appreciate your fellow man until you have a respect for all the other living things that have made it possible for him to be here. Most people don’t realize what they belong to, and that we belong to the greatest thing that’s ever happened.
“This country is in its adolescence. We know how to run a bulldozer. We know how to destroy. But we don’t know how to build and live peacefully with nature because we’ve always felt that nature was an adversary.
“Man can’t, doesn’t, shouldn’t own land. He can use it, but only if he cares about it. I live on a lifetime lease — I don’t own that land. When I’m gone, that land will not be fought over by my children. It will go into a public trust, and my home will become some useful entity other than a home.
“Everybody says that’s crazy, that you should leave your children something, and I say that I’m trying to leave my children a heritage of inner strength, and that’s nothing that the sale price of a home will buy. Anything they’re going to get from me they’re going to get before I go.”
“If anyone had told me when I came to Aspen that we were going to have a pollution problem or that I would have to wait 10 minutes to cross Main Street, I would have laughed at them. But it’s becoming geometric now.
(Quoting a Taos Indian legend:) “‘This was our land, the land that the mountain needed to rise in majesty, the land that my people needed in order to roam its secrets in reverence. This was the land of our great waters, the beating heart of nature going through all time. This was our land, the land that provided everything good for my people. The sun set upon it, the rain washed it, and the fire was kind in its fury. It was so for all time.
“Then the land was taken from us, so now it’s your land. Do you know how to speak to the land, my brother? Do you listen to what it tells you? Can you take from it no more than what you need? Can you keep its secrets to yourself? Sell the land, my brother? You might as well sell the sun, the moon and the stars.’”
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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