Les Stroud’s career as an explorer, filmmaker, and star of the TV series “Survivorman” has taken him to the far reaches of the planet – from the Canadian Arctic to the Kalahari Desert to the island of New Guinea. Two quieter passions are now bringing him to Leopold Country: his music and his admiration for Aldo Leopold. A seasoned musician and accomplished blues harmonica player, Stroud is playing a concert on June 23 at Ho-Chunk Gaming in Wisconsin Dells, part of the foundation’s biennial Building a Land Ethic conference. He recently described to us how Leopold has inspired him, as well as what he hopes to inspire in others through his music.
Leopold Foundation: You obviously have a deep love of nature and the outdoors. Where does that come from?
Stroud: I don’t really know. Can I say “my soul,” because it has been an all-consuming passion all my life? It is where I have always felt the most at home, and I do certainly feel so very at home in nature and have ever since I was young. And it is correct to call it a “deep love,” for the natural world absolutely taps into my emotions. On the grander scale, I think it’s there in all of us; however, some, or perhaps even most of us have been taught to bury it.
Leopold Foundation: How were you first introduced to Aldo Leopold?
Stroud: A friend gave me A Sand County Almanac and simply said “you need to read this book.” He was right.
Leopold Foundation: How have Leopold’s ideas influenced your life and career?
Stroud: As it was with John Muir, Bill Mason, Jacques Cousteau, and others, Aldo eloquently personified deep love and respect for the natural world. But Aldo didn’t pull his punches or mince his words; he was a straight shooter about his opinions on how we care or don’t care for the natural world. That’s my style, too, and so I have empathized with his perspective and related to his words for years in and out of my various experiences dealing with nature and society.
Leopold Foundation: Do you have a favorite Leopold quote?
“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.”
Leopold Foundation: It sounds like music was your first passion, then you pursued outdoor adventure and filmmaking for many years, before coming back to music? What has moved you to focus again on music?
Stroud: Firstly, I believe that in life all the various skills and attributes we learn and build up, and that become entrenched within us over the years, begin to group together and “fall back in on us” in a wonderful casserole of understanding and perspective – or at least they should if we allow them to. Which is to say we make use of everything we have learned to continue forward, hopefully more enlightened, more impassioned, and more focused on what drives us.
Sure, I write love songs and play blues and rock and roll, but when I have focused my music on the “soul purpose” of celebrating or respecting the natural world it really “landed.” It hit home. It all began to make sense that my live concerts combined with my large-screen presentations for my film work, interlaced with my stories of connecting to nature, all laid out on a bed of my music, gave me an opportunity that no one else on the planet has.
Leopold Foundation: How does your love of nature influence your music?
Stroud: It gives me focus. Sometimes the page is blank and out comes a love song. But often my belly is burning with a thought or desire or lament about our natural world because, as stated in the earlier question, what I actually have for nature is a “deep love.” And shouldn’t the things/people/places/understandings in our lives influence everything we do?
Leopold Foundation What do you hope people take from your concert in June?
Stroud: In short, three words: Connect with nature. Start there. I don’t need to suggest all the strategies because I believe if you just start by getting out in nature, the natural world and the energy within it will give you the information you need for effective living. Will it be an entertaining evening? Absolutely. Will it be fun? You bet! Will it be enriching? Yep, that’s the point! As an entertainer I want people to feel it was one of the best nights of their lives. As a fan of Aldo Leopold I want them to learn again how to be in love with nature.
If you go:
Friday, June 23, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Ho-Chunk Gaming Upper Dells Ballroom
Tickets: Included with registration to the Building a Land Ethic Conference; individual tickets $20 per person
Individual tickets for the Les Stroud Live performance will go on sale in April on the Aldo Leopold Foundation website. RSVP on the event page to be notified when ticket sales begin.