“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.”
― Aldo Leopold
I am just going to come out and say it; I absolutely love this book. It is rare that I come across a book that I cannot put down, and feel compelled to reread passages savoring every word. But this is one of those books. I was unsure when I started the book if I was going to be able to read the whole book or even relate to it. I am not sure what my apprehension was. Perhaps it was because the book was written in 1949. But what I found were the observations and musings from a naturalist who lamented what was happening to the environment back in the 1940s and before. His quote above speaks volumes to me. I am one who cannot live without wild things. If you are also one of us, then this book is a must read. If you like critters and nature, but are unsure about the fuss, please read the book.
by Aldo Leopold
Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 30, 1989)
List Price: $ 12.95
Amazon Price: $10.54 (Paperback)
In a Few Words
A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There was written by ecologist, forester, and environmentalist Aldo Leopold. The observations in the first part of the book take place in Sauk County, Wisconsin. The book is a collection of essays where Leopold’s talks about “land ethic”, or a relationship that man has with the land, animals and plants. The book was published a year after Leopold’s death. Two million copies have been printed in nine languages to date. I find it sad that Leopold was not alive to see the impact his book has had on the American conservation / environmental movement.
A Sand County Almanac combines natural history, Leopold’s philosophy and many beautiful natural sketches. One of the most well known quotes from the book is, “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.”
What I Liked
As I began reading Leopold’s essays, I was struck by the love he had for the land. I think it is what drew me into the book. His words touched my soul, my core being. They spoke of rivers receding and painting a picture with flowers that suddently bloomed. He described in incredible detail, the sunrise and being able to identify each bird as they broke into song. There was an essay like this for every month, and I found I had to read on to get to the next month. I couldn’t wait to see what beauty was in store for me through his words.
“On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous descending spirals to their feeding grounds. A new day has begun on the crane marsh.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
And while he spoke of the land and animals on it, he also described the history of the land, what is now gone, what is in danger and why and what we need to do. Now mind you this was 1949. But his message is still strong. It is our message, those of us who speak about nature and preserving it. And yet, has much changed…I don’t think so. I see many similarities to today although I think we are in such worse shape, and at a critical point where we must do something about our habits of living or we will surely reach a point of no return. I know I might sound like an alarmist, but trust me I am not. I am a realist at this point and so was Leopold. Much of what he talked about has happened or is still happening.
The second section of the book, “Sketches Here and There,” takes you to some places around North America that Leopold visited. He recounts his experiences particularly hunting experiences. I enjoyed his description of the mountains in northern Arizona where I have visited. And of course some of the thoughts about hunting were of the time and not necessarily ascribed to today.
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
The last section of the book ends with philosophical essays where Leopold talks more about conservation and some of its ironies. He describes how we encourage recreation in the wild to appreciate it, but ultimately end up destroying it.
“The problem, then, is how to bring about a striving for harmony with land among a people many of whom have forgotten there is any such thing as land, among whom education and culture have become almost synonymous with landlessness. This is the problem of conservation education.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Not So Much
Leopold doesn’t mince words, but I find his candor refreshing and needed. Others may not. The biggest issue for me was that I had to constantly check Google or another resource to see what plant or animal he was describing. Sometimes he used technical and scientific terms that I was not familiar with. But this did not deter from the poetry of his words, and was just a minor issue that took a bit of my time to discern. But as an educator I am not averse to learning and that is exactly what I did.
“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
I find it hard to believe that the book went unnoticed when it was published. It was not until the 1970s and the birth of the modern environmental movement that this book became a best seller. I am sad that I did not find this book then. I agree with critics that Leopold’s work ranks up there with Thoreau’s Walden.
“Tell me of what plant-birthday a man takes notice, and I shall tell you a good deal about his vocation, his hobbies, his hay fever, and the general level of his ecological education.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
There are many different editions of this book and it depends what you are looking for. The one pictured here is the commemorative edition that is no longer in print even though I bought it with in the last year. There are hardcover editions with wildlife pictures from Leopold’s wonderful Sand County area. And there are other paperback editions. So you choose, but I strongly urge you to read this book. Read it for the shear beauty of his words, the incredible nature he brings to you or the strong message we must begin to hear. But whatever you do, read this book!
“We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
― Aldo Leopold
**All pictures of nature were taken in and around my garden or at Beaver Lake Nature Center nearby.
Next up on the blog: I will have our Seasonal Celebrations Revealed on Wednesday the first full day of spring. And don’t forget to join Beth@PlantPostings for Garden Lessons Learned this week. Wildflower Wednesday next week will be about my last color post, green.
Please join me for my weekly posts, every Tuesday, at Beautiful Wildlife Garden.
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