a sand county almanac

Baraboo, Wisconsin © Google Maps

A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There
author: Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948)
published: 1949

“A sense of history should be the most precious gift of science and of the arts, but I suspect that the grebe, who has neither, knows more of history than we do. His dim primordial brain knows nothing of who won the Battle of Hastings, but it seems to sense who won the battle of time. If the race of men were as old as the race of grebes, we might better grasp the import of his call. Think what traditions, prides, disdains, and wisdoms even a few self-conscious generations bring to us! What pride of continuity, then, impels this bird, who was a grebe eons before there was a man.”

The river traces topographical contours and accommodates. A highway blasts through stone and earth to proudly move forward.
If Leopold’s spirit soured above the pine trees on his Wisconsin property and looked down today, he would surely see a landscape dotted with the dilemmas he worriedly wrote about.

It was on this land on April 21, 1948 that a grass fire spread across a neighbor’s property and threatened his own. Aldo ran to help only to be struck by a heart attack and pass.

One week before his death, Aldo Leopold was informed by Oxford University Press that his book, named Great Possessions at the time, would be bound and sold. His family, friends and colleagues would make the final edits in his absence.

This book came into my hands the way books are meant to be acquired, serendipitously. Life’s path leads you down the cluttered trail of thought, and then a book is given to you that informs you more about your intended direction.

A modern environmentalist or naturalist may be turned off initially by what would seem to be an outdated view Leopold often has of his natural setting. There are instances where he talks of animals in regards to their usefulness to hunters, which he is one, or when he talks of land in its usefulness to the landowner. To those tainted by their own rigid belief systems, these reflections by Leopold may seem counterintuitive, but the highlight of this book is when he elaborates on this very idea.

Leopold contemplates our modern conclusion of “growing out” of the wilderness, and that the woods have simply become a quaint place of recreation we enter with our over-done arsenal of gear bought from REI and EMS… In the process, we lose any in depth interaction with the wilds. Instead we simply bring our modernity to the woods in the hopes of escaping it.

From our detachment, Leopold looks deeper into the character of the American, and his pioneering nature, and dissects the values instilled. In this analysis he is in search of a “land ethic” he believes is crucial to our sustainable interaction with the natural world.

This land ethic will inevitably make the difference between a society that will endure and one which will meet its fate through its careless approach to the wilderness.

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