By Kaisa Lappalainen
On May 23rd New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe opens an exhibit, “Wild at Heart,” to celebrate the accomplishments of the writer, painter, naturalist and lecturer Ernest Thompson Seton.
Ernest Thompson Seton, like his contemporary Aldo Leopold, had been a bounty hunter participating in the “clearing” of the American West; both had a change of heart as they witnessed the senseless slaughter of the wolves and were able to relate to a much bigger world, where the predators had their own important role to play. Both became the first advocates for the Environmental Movement.
Throughout the decades E. T. Seton’s influence has been felt all around the world. “Wild Animals I Have Known,” first published in 1898, has been translated to many languages. I was in elementary school the first time I read these short stories, as a Finnish translation, and became fascinated by Seton’s illustrations. And as for so many others, it was the story of the Lobo, the King of Currumpaw that touched me the most, forever.
Seton traveled down to Northern New Mexico’s vast cattle range to hunt down the notorious wolf: “Old Lobo, or the king, as the Mexicans called him, was the gigantic leader of a remarkable pack of gray wolves, that had ravaged the Currumpaw Valley for a number of years.” But as he finally caught up with the wolf, it no longer was the trophy he once sought after, but instead he experienced great respect for the awe inspiring animal. Seton’s paradigm shifted. He had seen beyond the utilitarian worldview.
The story of the Lobo always stayed with me. Along my travels I acquired my English copy of the stories, printed August 1916. And I muse how much Ernest Thompson Seton influenced my path and direction in life: I am now myself in New Mexico and an advocate for restoring the Mexican gray wolf in the wild.
The exhibit is very timely, as we need to be reminded of the sense of wonder the wild awakes in us. Ernest Thompson Seton and his work is a great testimony, an invitation for us all, to share his passion for wildlife.
Photo above: Black Wolf of the Currumpaw, an oil on board painting by Ernest Thompson Seton, 1893. Photo courtesy of Philmont Museum.