A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Guest post by Laura V.

Published 70 years ago, A Sand County Almanac was a prescient body of work for its time. Today, overlooking some dated cultural and technological references, it remains just as relevant, if not more so. Leopold was born and raised in Burlington, Iowa. The nonprofit Leopold Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin, serves as headquarters for the Aldo Leopold Foundation and visitor center and marks the spot on which he died of a heart attack while fighting a wild fire in 1948.

In the first section, A Sand County Almanac is divided into months. Leopold explores the cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena surrounding his weekend home “the shack” in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, outdoor sportsman, and exquisite writer. He is a more modern version of the rugged nature writer in the vein of Emerson and Thoreau. He sometimes uses literary devices that are simple in their architecture but absolutely delightful to read. My favorite is his use of felling a seasoned dead oak as a vehicle to recount the history of the land on which his farm is situated. I also like the Odyssey parable in the second section.

The second section is entitled, “Sketches Here and There” where he talks about his travels through various states, Canada, and Mexico. The essays show his maturation into the naturalist and conservationist he became. These recollections are often sad, with his description of lost ecology when settlers colonized various locations. His writing is nonetheless a joy with his observations and musings on the local habitats.

The final section is called “The Upshot” he describes the need for an ethic toward the land that diverges from the one perpetuated for millennia, man as ruler over nature therefore he is free to use it however he pleases. He argues for a broader imagining of respect for our land that isn’t solely measured through economics.

This book is timeless and beloved among conservationists. It would have probably continued to sit on my reading wish list, however, had it had it not been for my enrollment into the Scott County Master Conservationist Program. The book was required reading and we were each given a copy. I hungrily devoured it like a banquet of both familiar and new ideologies. I just wish the agricultural community specifically and the general public as a whole would have heeded his advice.

The Master Conservationist program was an excellent course at Nahant Marsh through Iowa State University Scott County Extension. We had several exciting field trips in which we visited natural areas in and outside the Quad Cities. I learned a great deal through firsthand experience in the fields and prairies. The course included many informative readings and videos. I loved the classes and Brian Ritter, the Executive Director’s wit and humor made them even more enjoyable. It was fun to converse with like-minded individuals who were learning along with me. I encourage everyone with an interest in conservation to register for the next program in 2020!

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