March is Leopold Month

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sometimes in late winter, we are looking for a good escape. If you can’t travel physically, you can choose a good book that helps you “travel” in other ways. One of my favorite books is Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac.”

Aldo Leopold, well-known conservationist and writer, was born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1887. As a young boy, he grew up fishing, hunting and hiking along the Mississippi River. He went on to earn a Master’s degree in forestry from Yale, and began his career with the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona and New Mexico. Later, he taught game management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In 1935, Leopold and his family bought a worn-out farm along the Wisconsin River in Sand County, and began to rebuild the land to its natural state. They planted thousands of trees and restored prairie. They spent their weekends at “the shack.” Experiences throughout his life helped him develop his theory of a “land ethic.”

Today, Leopold is well known in both the field of conservation, and the field of literature. He can be listed in the ranks with John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Sigurd Olson, Rachel Carson and Edward Abbey.

Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac is a collection of essays and seasonal observations. It is easy to read because you can put it down and pick it up again months later. The book opens with this: “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot. Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher “standard of living” is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us in the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”

Around the country, we celebrate Leopold during the month of March, with public readings, guest speakers and special programs. I encorage you to check out his book and reflect on your own land ethic. If you are looking for a trip, you may want to travel to Baraboo, Wisconsin to see “the shack” that still stands today.

The Leopold Foundation has opened a visitor’s center nearby, highlighting the life and writings of Aldo Leopold. Their goal is to encourage others to experience the natural world and find their own connection to the land.

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