Becky Carlberg reviews Leopold



A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

Aldo Leopold

Illustrated by Charles W. Schwartz

Oxford University Press

Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.” In the foreword, Leopold finds himself isolated in his views of nature and explains it is a matter of degree between what wilderness has to offer and the sacrifices it has made for human progress. Leopold bought an abandoned sand farm in Wisconsin that had seen one too many crops, dairy cattle, and fires. With shovel and ax his family rebuilt the land. The book is separated into three parts.

Part One: The one year journal contains snapshots of the family at work on the rescued farm and at “the shack” as well as what they have encountered month-by-month. The Good Oak in February carries the message that hand-on personal involvement with nature is paramount. In April, Leopold speaks of the conversion of the prairie into woodlot farms in Wisconsin. Leopold was actually on his farm for two years before realizing the Sky Dance was being performed every evening in April and May. I loved reading about this. The dance can only take place in an open area only supporting moss or sand or rock. The male woodcock flies in low and alights on the bare spot. He begins singing his ‘peents’ and suddenly stops, taking off in spirals higher and higher, accompanied by twittering, until he is but a speck in the sky. Without warning the woodcock plunges to earth until he levels off a few feet from the ground back to the same place he began his flight. He begins to peent again, etc. Leopold’s parting thoughts referred to that fact that hundreds of farms have this happen, but are the owners entertained or must they seek their amusement in theaters? “They live on the land, but not by the land.” In July the Compass plant (Silphium sp.) arises in one corner of a prairie graveyard established in the 1840’s. Unreachable by mower, it is the sole remnant of this plant along one highway.

Part Two: From Wisconsin to Manitoba, Leopold tells of what wilderness was once there, and the immense changes that have happened after intense human colonization. The sand crane is a trumpet in the orchestra of evolution, and its marshes have been compromised. Wild rivers have been dammed, economists are unable to relate to nature, wheat farmers altered the landscape, and the settlers brought in livestock. In ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’ Leopold experienced an epiphany. The pivotal moment was when a young Leopold helped kill a wolf and “reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. She was not his to kill just for fun or sport.

Part Three: “The Upshot” deals with esthetics, American culture, the wilderness and land ethics. Things to think about: Outdoor Recreation not only has economic impact but carries with it an ethical aspect. Harmony must be achieved between public policies/crowd control and conscientious passionate citizens/natural world. Perception is a treasure of the mind. Recreational development does not mean build roads into lovely country, but build receptivity into the still unlovely human mind. What a thought. Leopold looks at wildlife and the American sportsman, the remnants of wilderness and the many roles wilderness still plays in recreation, science and wildlife. The Land Ethic looks to the future through eyes of the past. The role of humans must change from conqueror to respecter. “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

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