Theodore Roosevelt was a busy, busy man. As I lay in bed watching Episode 23 of Parks and Recreation Season Two as if it were my job, I reflected on TR’s strenuous life and constant contributions and guilted myself into getting up and getting a new post started. By following the biography of his early years, Mornings on Horseback, with a selection of his own writing I thought I would stay engaged with one of our most energetic historical figures, but these writings focus on how to kill as many animals as possible, mostly for food. Yes, I eat meat, wear leather goods and have more animal skins scattered around my house than the average person, but I find myself wondering, “so when does the conservation part begin?”
Roosevelt writes very simply and sweetly about nature. He praises himself with faint damns (how mediocre a shot he is, what a modest amount of game he bags relative to others), which is a little irritating, but he is a likable author and very easy to read. I can’t decide if it is comforting or depressing to learn that Roosevelt predicted the decline and extinction of species he was hunting and the way of life he and the ranchers were leading back in the 1880s.
American exceptionalism is a growing topic of conversation lately and I think of TR when I think of exceptional–in both the negative and the positive contexts. Even though he realizes that buffalo (at the time of his writing) were nearly extinct, he spent days tracking and shooting at one until he’d “bagged” it with great glee. On the positive side, it seems that even without his excellent upbringing and enormous wealth, he was such a bundle of energy and intelligence that he would be exceptional no matter what.
Roosevelt’s descriptions of the Bad Lands of South Dakota make me want to take an across-America road trip. A few weeks away from news and the internet and endless entertainment (there are 5 more Seasons of Amy Poehler’s wonderful Parks and Recreation that I feel it is my duty as a laugh-starved American to inhale) would be good for the soul. None of TR’s writing is truly quotable or poetic, but as he goes on about rifle types and terrain and cowboys, animal species and hunting methods, a sense of the humble, straightforward and rigorous life of the pioneer in the dramatic and lonely landscape takes shape.