Read A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold Online


This special edition of the highly acclaimed A Sand County Almanac commemorates the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Aldo Leopold, one of the foremost conservationists of our century. First published in 1949 and praised in The New York Times Book Review as "full of beauty and vigor and bite," A Sand County Almanac combines some of the finest nature writing since TThis special edition of the highly acclaimed A Sand County Almanac commemorates the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Aldo Leopold, one of the foremost conservationists of our century. First published in 1949 and praised in The New York Times Book Review as "full of beauty and vigor and bite," A Sand County Almanac combines some of the finest nature writing since Thoreau with an outspoken and highly ethical regard for America's relationship to the land.The volume includes a section on the monthly changes of the Wisconsin countryside; another section that gathers together the informal pieces written by Leopold over a forty-year period as he traveled around the woodlands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Sonora, Oregon, Manitoba, and elsewhere; and a final section in which Leopold addresses more formally the philosophical issues involved in wildlife conservation. As the forerunner of such important books as Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and Robert Finch's The Primal Place, this classic work remains as relevant today as it was forty years ago....

Title : A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There
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ISBN : 9780195059281
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
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A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There Reviews

  • Chris
    2019-02-27 18:56

    How is it possible that I earned a BS in natural resources (and slipping toward an MS in wildlife) without being required to read this book? Aldo Leopold is often called the father of wildlife management. But Sand County Almanac is not a text book, with nary a glossary, set of models, or flow chart within its pages. It does contain some pretty drawings, and some spellbinding imagery. Leopold goes beyond vividly describing a scene of chopping wood or canoeing a river; he pans back to ecological connectivity or the aesthetic importance of the natural world to humanity. He talks about the need for a land ethic, and it sounds very logical and obvious-- I have to remind myself that he wrote these essays before such a mindset was commonplace. Even if his views were not completely original for the time, he is undoubtedly remembered for being so darn eloquent. A master of the one-liner, it's no wonder that all of my nat res classes seemed to quote him several times each semester (and some classes on a weekly basis). I feel sheepish for not reading it much earlier in my career, but I'm very glad I picked it up. He was a remarkable naturalist and writer. I can see him clearly, squatting in ice-crusted mud before dawn breaks over the marsh, his shotgun poking through the reeds and ears open to the sounds of approaching waterfowl, all the while silently creating poetry.

  • Roy Lotz
    2019-02-20 18:01

    What a dull world if we knew all about geese!Nature is refreshing. Even a short walk in a park can powerfully clear one’s head. For whatever reason—perhaps because our ancestors lived in trees—surrounding oneself with birches and maples produces in nearly everyone feelings of warmth, comfort, and peace. And for many people, nature is more than refreshing: it is awe-inspiring, even divine. Natural environments are, for some, more uplifting than cathedrals. Emerson might have captured this strain of mystical naturalism best:In the woods, we return to reason and faith. … Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being flow through me; I am part or particle of God.I myself have had comparable experiences in the woods. Yet both Emerson and I are pure amateurs next to Aldo Leopold.Leopold was a pioneering conservationist and forester. He was also a superlative writer, and in this brief book he covers a lot of ground. He begins with a month-by-month account of Sand County, a poor farming region in Wisconsin. This was my favorite section, since Leopold’s sensitivity to his environment is nearly superhuman. He has a keen sense of both the history of environments—how they change with the seasons, how they have evolved through time, how they have been warped by human activity—and the close-knit interdependence of ecosystems, how each organism shapes and is shaped by every other organism, forming a perfect whole. As a stylist, he manages to be lyrical and poetic while sticking scrupulously to what he sees and hears. His sentences are short, his diction simple, and yet he manages to evoke a densely complex ecosystem. This is because, unlike Emerson or I—and more so than Thoreau—Leopold really understood his environment. He can name every species of plant, and tell what soils they prefer and what plants they like as neighbors. He can identify every bird by its call, and knows where it roosts, what it eats, when it migrates, and how it mates. Scratches on a tree tell him a deer is nearby, his antlers fully grown; the footprints in snow tell him a skunk has passed, and how recently.All this is described with exquisite sensitivity, but no romantic embellishment. To borrow a phrase from E.B. White, Leopold had discovered “the eloquence of facts.” And, like White, Thoreau, and Emerson, his writing has a pleasing, folksy, rambling, ambling quality, wherein each sentence is nailed to the next one at an oblique angle. In the rest of the book, Leopold puts forward a new philosophy of conservation. This train of thought reminded my very much of another book I read recently, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In that book, Jane Jacobs explains how top-down approaches to city planning killed neighborhood vitality. Just so, when Leopold was a young man in the forestry service, he participated in the policy of removing predators—bears, wolves, and mountain lions—to protect livestock and to increase the supply of hunting animals, like deer. When hunting became necessary to control population, parks began building more and more roads to make access easier; and meanwhile the exploding deer population prevented new trees from growing. Thus the park was encroached upon by cars, and the ecosystem thrown off balance—in the same way that blindly building highways and public housing can destroy neighborhoods.Leopold was, I believe, one of the first to popularize the idea that ecosystems act like one giant organism, with a delicate balance of cooperating and competing components. Every healthy ecosystem is a harmony that cannot be disturbed without unpredictable results. To again borrow from Jacobs, an ecosystem—like a city economy or a human brain—is an example of “organized complexity.” Thus ecosystems baffle attempts to understand them by thinking of their components separately, as a collection of individual species, or even statistically, as the average behavior of interchangeable parts. Complexity like this tends to be a product of historical growth, with each distinct component making minute adjustments to each other in a dense network of influence. Leopold doesn’t say this in so many words; but he does something even more impressive: he illustrates this quality using short anecdotes and schoolboy vocabulary.His most philosophic contribution to the environmental movement is what he called a “land ethic.” Previous arguments for conservation were couched in terms of expediency: how national parks and nature reserves could benefit us economically. Leopold believed that this approach was too narrow; since hunting lodges and mechanized farms are always more profitable in the short term, this would eventually result in the destruction of wild ecosystems and the disappearance of species. We needed to move beyond arguments of expediency and see the land—and everything on it—as valuable for its own sake. Leopold believed that we had an ethical duty to preserve ecosystems and all their species, and that the aesthetic reward of wild nature was more valuable than dollars and cents could measure.I want to go along with this, but I thought that Leopold was unsatisfyingly vague in this direction. It is simply not enough to say that we have an ethical duty to preserve nature; this is quite a claim, and requires quite a bit of argument. Further, aesthetic value seems like a slender reed to rest on. For every Emerson and Thoreau, there is a Babbitt whose tastes are not so refined. To his credit, Leopold does argue that a great part of conservation must consist in elevating the public taste in nature. Otherwise, conservation will consist of little more than the government using tax dollars to purchase large swaths of land. Individuals must see the value in wilderness and actively participate in preserving it. But molding tastes is no easy thing; and, more importantly, if we are to do so, there must be compelling reasons to do it.The most compelling reasons for conservation are, I believe, expediency—but expediency in the widest sense. The difference between folly and wisdom is not that the former is preoccupied with expediency and the latter higher things; it is that wisdom considers what is expedient on a grander scale. Leopold comes close to making this same argument. He was, for example, ahead of his time in being deeply concerned about extinction. Every time a species disappears it is an irreplaceable loss; and considering that our medicine partly depends on new discoveries, extinctions may have terrible consequences for us down the line. (I saw a PBS special the other day about scientists trying to discover new antibiotics by shifting through raw soil.) Since Leopold's day—long before Silent Spring or An Incovenient Truth—we have learned plenty more ways that environmental destruction can be equivalent to self-destruction.Carping aside, this is a deeply satisfying book: lyrical, descriptive, educational, and innovative. Leopold realized what Orwell also realized: that winning converts requires both argument and propaganda. He does not only argue for the value of nature, but he really captures the beauty of unspoiled environments and serves it up for his readers’ consideration. We are not only convinced, but seduced. This is propaganda in its noblest form—propaganda on behalf of nature.

  • Bam
    2019-03-05 14:50

    I've had this book on my shelf for ages and decided to read it in honor of Earth Day. It's a little too cold for reading outside today but the sun is shining, I have the door wall open and I'm enjoying the fresh breezes and birdsongs of spring...while listening to a few of Bach's cello suites. Perfect!Writing in 1948, Aldo Leopold was already lamenting the damage to nature and the environment caused by human greed and carelessness in the pursuit of more and bigger. He asks the question: "Is a higher 'standard of living' worth its cost in things natural, wild and free?" Part I is written as an almanac of seasonal experiences at his weekend retreat on a sand farm in southern Wisconsin. "There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot." Part II are sketches of forty years of travels across the continent and the issues of conservation he had observed. In Part III The Upshot, Leopold lets loose some of his thoughts on what has become of our beautiful, wild country. And this was nearly 70 years ago! Quite depressing. And now that we have climate-change deniers in the administration and the EPA standards and regulations weakened or cancelled, is there any hope at all? Sad, sad, sad...All these essay are beautifully illustrated by the drawings of Charles W. Schwartz. Aldo Leopold died the same year this book was written (1948) while helping to fight a grass fire on a neighboring farm. This was shortly after becoming an advisor on conservation to the United Nations. He was posthumously named to the National Wildlife Federation's Conservation Hall of Fame in 1965.

  • Tony
    2019-03-08 14:40

    Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.*-pause-Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.There is nothing, nothing, beyond Aldo Leopold's reach of words. I've read, oh, sixty or seventy books so far this year - some inventive, some incisive - but nothing matches the magic of this writing. And so, I'll have to quote a lot.Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folks may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say : Let there be a tree--and there will be one. . . . God passed on his handiwork as early as the seventh day, but I notice He has been rather noncommittal about its merits. I gather either He spoke too soon, or that trees stand more looking upon than do fig leaves and firmaments. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --There are other plants who seem to ask of this world not riches but room. Such is the little sandwort that throws a white-lace cap over the poorest hilltops just before the lupines splash them with blue. Sandworts simply refuse to live on a a good farm, even on a very good farm, complete with rock garden and begonias. And then there is the little Linaria, so small, so slender, and so blue that you don't even see it until it is directly underfoot; who ever saw a Linaria except on a sandblow? . . . There are birds that are found only in the Sand Counties, for reasons sometimes easy, sometimes difficult, to guess. The clay-colored sparrow is there, for the clear reason that he is enamored of jackpines, and jackpines of sand. The sandhill crane is there, for the clear reason that he is enamored of solitude, and there is none left elsewhere. But why do woodcocks prefer to nest in sandy regions? Their preference is rooted in no such mundane matter as food, for earthworms are far more abundant on better soils. After years of study, I now think I know the reason. The male woodcock, while doing his preening prologue to the sky dance, is like a short lady in high heels: he does not show up to advantage in dense tangled ground cover. But on the poorest sand-streak of the poorest pasture or meadow of the Sand Counties, there is, in April at least, no ground cover at all, save only moss, Draba, cardamine, sheep-sorrel, and Antennaria, all negligible imprediments to a bird with short legs. Here the male woodcock can puff and strut and mince, not only without let or hindrance, but in full view of his audience, real or hoped-for. This little circumstance, important for only an hour a day, for only one month of the year, perhaps for only one of the two sexes, and certainly wholly irrelevant to economic standards of living, determine the woodcock's choice of home. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. The Cro-Magnon who slew the the last mammoth thought only of steaks. The sportsman who shot the last pigeon thought only of his prowess. The sailor who clubbed the last auk thought of nothing at all. But we, who have lost our pigeons, mourn the loss. Had the funeral been ours, the pigeons would hardly have mourned us. In this fact, rather than in Mr. DuPont's nylons or Mr. Vannevar Bush's bombs, lies objective evidence of our superiority over the beasts. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --Thus always does history, whether of marsh or market place, end in paradox. The ultimate value in these marshes is wildness, and the crane is wildness incarnate. But all conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wildness left to cherish. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --There's an extended part of this book where the author and others saw through an old oak that has fallen on his property. He cites the history, backwards, as they saw through, ring by ring, year by year. It's splendid stuff and not conventional history like Hitler did this or General Sherman did that; but, more about carp planting and barbed wire and the things meadow mice have been know to do. At the end (beginning) of each decade, we hear: Rest! cries the chief sawyer, and we pause for breath. So, there's a musical cadence too. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --Sorry for quoting so much, but I hope you see why I did. This book is in three parts: the first two are his observations of nature and the last part is kind of a call to arms for conservation of wilderness. This book was written almost 70 years ago and Leopold knew, even then, that what he was preaching was a lost cause. Yet this book remains in 'the higher gamut.'-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Four boarding passes, and four light-rail link passes, gave their lives, in little torn pieces, to mark the many passages in this book worth remembering. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --*I read almost this exact quote two weeks ago in the bookRendez-vous with Art. I went back and couldn't quite put my finger on it, so you'll have to trust me.

  • Edward
    2019-03-08 14:42

    ForewordA Sand County AlmanacJanuary--January ThawFebruary--Good OakMarch--The Geese ReturnApril--Come High Water--Draba--Bur Oak--Sky DanceMay--Back from the ArgentineJune--The Alder ForkJuly--Great Possessions--Prairie BirthdayAugust--The Green PastureSeptember--The Choral CopseOctober--Smoky Gold--Too Early--Red LanternsNovember--If I Were the Wind--Axe-in-Hand--A Mighty FortressDecember--Home Range--Pines above the Snow--65290Sketches Here and ThereWisconsin--Marshland Elegy--The Sand Counties--Odyssey--On a Monument to the Pigeon--FlambeauIllinois and Iowa--Illinois Bus Ride--Red Legs KickingArizona and New Mexico--On Top--Thinking Like a Mountain--EscudillaChihuahua and Sonora--Guacamaja--The Green Lagoons--Song of the GavilanOregon and Utah--Cheat Takes OverManitoba--ClandeboyeThe Upshot--Conservation Esthetic--Wildlife in American Culture--Wilderness--The Land Ethic

  • P. Lundburg
    2019-03-17 15:47

    This book is a true classic and canonized piece of Nature Literature. Leopold was an ecology scientist at the U of Wisconsin, Madison, who bought a small piece of property in the Sand County region in central Wisconsin, where he and his family would take long weekends and vacations, fixing the place up and enjoying nature.The essays collected in this amazing book are Leopold's musings and observations on his little chunk of the wilderness, reflecting on everything from sipping coffee outside in the morning as he listens to the litany of chickadees and nuthatches surrounding him in the post-sunrise woods, to the balance of an ecosystem captured in the description of a childhood experience of shooting a wolf. The prose is rich and deep, and draws the reader along into looking at the world through a fresh lens -- a lens that accentuates the ordinary and helps us gain a more proper perspective on life.I love this book. I've read it many times, and have pushed it onto many a hapless reader . . . including my kids. If you have even a tiny bit of appreciation for nature and the outdoors, you will love this book. That is not something I say about very many of the Nature Lit type books, but this is one. I've taught it many times as part of the reading list in my college Nature Lit course, and have had numerous students tell me they were stunned at how good this book is, and how it changed the way they look at the world around them.Get it. Read it. It's that simple.... :-)

  • Adeline
    2019-02-24 20:47

    Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac is a compelling blend of beautiful depictions of nature, personal opinion and reflection, and political commentary. Leopold extols the beauty of nature and emphasizes how much humans are a part of it. As members of the natural world, humans have a dramatic effect on the environment, and Leopold does not shy away from this issue. Rather than advocate for total preservation of wilderness, Leopold expresses the value of hunting and using the resources present in the wild. Hunting, he argues, is actually a way to become more attuned to the subtleties of a natural environment. Leopold's commentary about how nature should be used is one of the most striking things about the book, second only to the reverent appreciation of nature that he expresses. Leopold depicts hunting as a meditative process in which the hunter becomes part of his environment and develops an understanding of and respect for his prey. This seems reasonable, despite my personal instinct that an environmentalist must be against hunting. Of course, Leopold cannot condone all methods of hunting. The new age of “gadgeteers” (214) and the hunters who buy their wares are not in tune with nature. Leopold wonders if they are “absorbing cultural value” or “just feeding minks” with the birds missed by their hasty shots (215). It is interesting to hear someone with such respect for nature also acknowledge that he enjoys killing animals. I didn't particularly respect this position; I am glad to hear that he does not use too many high tech gadgets, and I know that hunting is something of a national pastime, but I can't wrap my mind around it as acceptable unless it is done for subsistence. This is not to say that I haven't enjoyed wild turkey meatballs and venison sausage killed by the local hunters in my town, but hunting seems so barbaric. Yet we are animals with all the instincts that entails, and meat sure does taste good. Somehow I can only approve of hunting when it is done only with tools found in nature and made by hand. Paleolithic hunting methods are pretty much the only ones I can condone, but maybe I need to get over my romanticized ideas about nature. I have always thought that if everything we build our bodies with comes from nature, and we eat animals that have suffered and been tortured, and then we turn their cells into our cells, we are building ourselves out of sorrow.

  • Stephen
    2019-02-28 14:43

    Completed shortly before his death in 1948, University of Wisconsin forestry professorAldo Leopold grants his readers the supreme privilege of seeing nature through the original ecologist's eyes. Leopold was probably not the first to use the term "ecologist", nor the first to be be so branded; surely he was the first to deserve it. Though it may appear a quaint historical piece at first glance, its message is no less potent and relevant in the 21st century: nature, the land, deserves full respect and love without regard to traditional economics. Without this, effort at conservation will be a vain half-measure at best.Sand County Almanac is a series of short pieces, organized in three primary units: A Sand County Almanac, Sketches Here and There, and The Upshot. Each is filled with a beautiful prose showing an easy command of the English language and yet also displaying enough humility to remain accessible to all. Along with scientific precision Leopold brings evocative imagery and an emotion at times ironic, but never overly so.The Almanac teaches us how to really see nature — how to understand a thing for what it is instead of what it is not. Thus the Leopold-educated, confronted with a marshy backwater, is no longer prone to see it as a lost opportunity for development. Rather, she will encounter a unique habitat, developed over geologic time into a home for beautiful pasque flowers, graceful cranes, and playful muskrats. Through a web of consumption — passing energy up through the soil to the plants, herbivores, carnivores, and back to the soil — the marsh sustains itself with only slow changes over time. Without the right mix of players, the biota is liable to collapse to a less sustainable, less organized, and less diverse state; in other words, it will devolve into a field of corn.In the Sketches, we get a portrait of Leopold's development as a young man and as a forester. Reading the Sketches, one feels a great sense of loss for all that humanity has done to its environs, for all that humanity unintentionally — and unfeelingly— has destroyed. And yet it is clear that he continues to respect the best elements of humanity:"To love what was is a new thing under the sun, unknown to most people and to all pigeons. To see America as history, to conceive of destiny as a becoming, to smell a hickory tree through the still lapse of ages — all these things are possible for us, and to achieve them takes only the free sky, and the will to ply our wings. In these things, and not in Mr. Bush's bombs and Mr. DuPont's nylons, lies objective evidence of our superiority over the beasts."We find that he is no Luddite. He does not shun civilization or the amenities of life. Its just that he believes in moderation, and convincingly shows that what most of us take for moderation remains overindulgence. What I think he laments most in mankind is the lack of a sense of connection to the land.This theme of connection is more thoroughly explored in the final unit, The Upshot. These four essays take both a more philosophic and political bent (though by no means partisan). The crowning jewel of the book is "The Land Ethic." He wishes us to see the land not as merely dirt, trees and water, but as a complex regenerative system that is beautiful and deserving of respect in its own right. My guess is that this is the most influential paragraph of the entire work:"The 'key-log' which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. 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."Incidentally, within "The Land Ethic" one can find the seeds of Gaia theory,Jared Diamond'sGuns, Germs, and Steel theories, and a clear understanding of the systems and complexity theories that were only beginning to emerge within the scientific community.The Almanac is a masterwork. It breathes the rarefied air of non-fiction elevated to the point of literature. Any education system that wishes to impart to its students an ability to know and understand nature (the goal of science) should require reading at least a selection. Any citizen who wishes to play a positive role in the future development of her city, region, nation ought to partake of Leopold's genius. This is a work that will stand the test of time. If one day a child, hearing of its fame, should read the Almanac and wonder at its hallowed status in light of what he perceives as commonplace observations, then shall we know that the Land Ethic has truly taken hold.For a sample of Leopold's writing, I recommend Thinking Like a Mountain, the first piece I ever read from him. From the Sketches, it expresses both a magnificent sense of the order in nature, along with Leopold's wistfulness about mankind's present role in the greater ecosystem. Also available online is The Land Ethic itself.

  • Rebecca Foster
    2019-02-28 20:46

    As a conservationist, Leopold was an heir to Thoreau and a thinker ahead of his time, yet I expect few people know how much of our current philosophy of wildness and the human impact on the world is indebted to him. This was first published in 1949, the year after Leopold’s death, but so many of his musings ring true today: how we only appreciate wildlife if we can put an economic value on it, the troubles we get into when we eradicate predators and let prey animals run rampant, and the danger of being disconnected from the land that supplies our very life. And all of this he delivers in beautiful, incisive prose. The almanac itself, a month-by-month account of life in his native patch of Wisconsin, contributes less than half of the length of the book; the rest is composed of occasional pieces set everywhere from Mexico to Manitoba. Although I liked the almanac best, there are memorable lines strewn throughout. (Charles W. Schwartz’s black-and-white illustrations are also wonderful.)“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.”“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”“A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”“whereas I write a poem by dint of mighty cerebration, the yellow-leg walks a better one just by lifting his foot.”

  • Jessica McCann
    2019-03-19 18:42

    This book provided great inspiration and insight for my current novel-in-progress, which has an environmental element.It was actually published shortly after the author died of a heart attack, in 1949. Leopold's life was cut far too short, and I can't help but wonder how much further America's conservation efforts might have evolved in the past 50 years had he lived longer. Many of his observations and warnings from the early part of the 1900s still ring true today. In that respect, this book was somewhat of a bittersweet read for me. I read his biography, A Fierce Green Fire, a couple of years ago, and this was a nice complement to that. In this collection of essays about the land he loved, Leopold shared his views as a conservationist, scientist and observer of life in lovely, often literary, prose that surprised me and hit an emotional chord. His essay, Thinking Like a Mountain, brought a lump to my throat and an ache in my heart as he described how he once participated in the killing of wolves in his "conservation" work for the federal government, and how in doing so he learned what a great mistake and tragedy it was."Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf."

  • Rise
    2019-03-09 17:39

    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.So simple and so direct that one was struck by how obvious these statements are, and yet these words seemed like a newly discovered insight, especially as they came logically after a series of vivid expositions on nature and natural history. Nature is beautiful and if we preserve it, we truly deserve it. If we destroy it, we are killjoys. Simple as that.A foundational text on environmental ethics, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold was a master statement of one who spent a lifetime of thinking in terms of nature and who has meditated on the imperiled future of wildlife. Leopold's long experience in the subject made him a credible person to tackle the impending environmental crisis that resulted under the 'care' of man.In the book, Leopold presented a sound case for the protection of wilderness areas and the flora and fauna inhabiting them. Leopold’s philosophical ideas outlined and prefigured the major ecological strategies of nature tourism, economic valuation of environmental resources, wildlife conservation, biodiversity management, and environmental education. It was the latter that Leopold emphasized as education (and research) is just the thing that can transform the old thinking on the use of natural resource base (utilitarianism) into a modern and progressive thinking on the harmony between man and nature (co-existence). The book was a clamor for an intellectual revolution in ecology; its intelligence was deep and came from a heart and mind so attuned to the daily cycles of birth, growth, vigor, death, reminiscence, and rebirth in nature.The poetic language was actually a foil for the deep-set values that Leopold harbored while staying in the Sand County. He built up his hermetic ideas into an exposition of an environmental worldview starting from a monthly calendar of natural cycles of plant and animal journeys, to some of the best sketches of nature writing ever put on a canvas, and concluding with an ethical sequence which unfolded like a jamming session of a philosopher in the underbrush of trees.One’s “prairie birthday” was clearly marked sometime in July:During every week from April to September there are, on the average, ten wild plants coming into first bloom. In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. He who steps unseeing on May dandelions may be hauled up short by August ragweed pollen; he who ignores the ruddy haze of April elms may skid his car on the fallen corollas of June catalpas. 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.This of course was a challenge from a proud man, and one could take it up without regret. Reading the prose was in itself a discovery of plant-birthdays when the natural curiosity suddenly flowered, took flight, and aspired for a higher education.A very fine sensibility to and perception of the natural world, Leopold’s writing was filtered through a powerful lens of human-ecological experience and consciousness. There was a slow internal rhythm to the first two parts of the book (“A Sand County Almanac” and “Sketches Here and There”), but immediacy and freshness lent itself to some of the best passages of nature literature ever written. The prose poetry that alighted on the essays here was awe-inducing.The middle part was an on-the-road, freestyle riffs on some of the memorable but fast disappearing wild places in America. Each place was unique for some reason, but really each place was the same. They were all found in one and the same location because they sprang from the same idea of something good, something transient, and something we encounter with, even if only once in a lifetime, authentic and humbling gladness. They are “here and there”, all around us, and they are waiting for us. We need to commit them to memory, to record them indelibly, and to believe that they can be lived again.The final section, "The Upshot", was a cogent argumentation for environmentalism that was not tainted by the usual gloom-and-doom rhetoric. It contained Leopold's dictums on what consists of right and wrong when it comes to human-environment nexus. The “Land Ethic” essay in this last section had been anthologized many times over in scores of books on environmental ethics. I think I own two or three other books where this essay was reprinted.It was a further achievement of the book that it was able to integrate the principles and concepts of ecology, then a pioneering science, into a style of writing that will be appreciated even by a layman. I recommend this book (actually, shoving it) to nature lovers and naturalists, but really, to general readers who want to escape the inertia of urban living and retreat into the folds of wilderness. (based on a review posted in my blog 06/2009)

  • MsBrie
    2019-02-25 13:50

    Are you one of those people who actually likes to read Thoreau? Well then you’re missing out! Aldo Leopold is sooooo much better. Leopold’s writing is poetic yet it also calls the common person to action. Likewise Leopold walks the walk when it comes to protecting the environment. While this book didn’t pass the random page test, if you like authors like Thoreau, then you should definitely check out The Sand County Almanac, which is the bible to environmentalists. First Page: There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot…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. Page 20: Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth? The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers. If you are a die-hard environmentalist (or you just like to read poetic things) this book is for you.

  • Cheryl
    2019-02-20 19:01

    Wow. Even though my parents owned few books and yet did own this, I never got around to it. And maybe as a child I wouldn't have enjoyed it so much. But now, goodness, I recognize that it belongs on the same shelf as Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Bernd Heinrich, and Michael Perry. The man is indeed a hero for the conservation movement, and writes beautifully. Wisconsin's wilderness, and the nation's perception of the value wilderness and of diverse ecosystems, owes much to him. We have made progress since his day. Yes, much has been lost with our increasing material wealth and population growth, but much has been gained in our attempts to live more in harmony with nature and to let some of it remain free."Like many another treaty of restraint, the pre-dawn pact lasts only as long as darkness humbles the arrogant. It would seem as if the sun were responsible for the retreat of reticence from the world. At any rate, by the time the mists are white over the lowlands, every rooster is bragging... and every corn shock is pretending to be twice as tall as any corn that ever grew. By sun-up every squirrel is exaggerating some fancied indignity to his person, and every jay proclaiming with false emotion about suppositious dangers to society, at this very moment discovered by him.""Hard years, of course come to pines as they do to men, and the are recorded as shorter thrusts, i.e. shorter spaces between the successive whorls of branches. These spaces, then are an autobiography that he who walks with trees may read at will."The book is not perfect, as there are references that need bibliographic notes and there are a few unfinished thoughts or incomplete conclusions. Some modern readers might object, too, to the bits about hunting (though Leopold himself seemed a bit ambivalent, as he himself hunts but doesn't approve the methods or aims of most others who do). But it is a classic, and still relevant.

  • Carol Smith
    2019-02-19 12:36

    This is a difficult book to rate. On the one hand, there is incredible value to be gained from the author's keen sense of observation. The first set of essays, the Sand County Almanac, takes us through a year of observing nature at work on Leopold's farm. He discovers firsthand how certain plants fare better when collocated. He bands chickadees and later discovers the bands in the pellets of a screech owl. He gains broad insights from small things that most of us pass by every day without considering. It's an ode to getting out of the classroom and into the field. He also supplies us with several formidable quotes and anecdotes on the importance of wilderness and conservation, especially in the later essays. The Flambeau River story (pp. 112-113) and his musings on the hidden uses of adversity (p. 84) are two that especially come to mind.But Mr. Leopold is also a product of his time, and it shows. He decries the decline of the grizzly (whose numbers have since recovered) but shares a tasty outdoor recipe that uses bear fat. He decries the overhunting of various species, but then goes fishing for rainbow trout and comments with some satisfaction of smoking on a midstream rock while he could hear the trout "kicking in the bed of wet alder leaves at the bottom of the creel" (p. 38). Cruel. In some respects, the work is as much an ode to hunting as to conservation. I don't oppose hunting, but I also feel the author fails to adequately address how hunting holds a proper place in the balance of things.Leopold also demonstrates substantial hubris towards his fellow man. He mocks a birder who attempts to describe a particular bird call in his log (p. 160), then goes on to admit that he himself will never understand the meaning of the call. Why be so nasty?!? I was personally insulted when he divided humans into four camps, including three types of hunters and one other type, the "non-hunter":The deer hunter habitually watches the next bend; the duck hunter watches the skyline; the bird hunter watches the dog; the non-hunter does not watch (p. 208).Mr. Leopold, I beg to differ.I recognize that he - inevitably - carries assumptions of his own time. I just question whether his message, which was highly appropriate and advanced for his time, still resonates as effectively. It certainly should be required reading for any student of conservation or ecology, in order to understand the historic roots of the movement. For the layperson, though, I for one would rather turn someone on to contemporary nature writers such as Robert Macfarlane or Roger Deakin.I enjoyed the illustrations of my edition. Any new printing would benefit, I think, from the inclusion of color plates that illuminate key topics such as the loss of biodiversity on the plains.

  • Dnicebear
    2019-02-21 18:58

    In honor of re-reading this book I take an hour walk in my neighborhood before I write my review. Behind the loud barking of too many dogs and below the many paved roads and above the blooming non-native eucalyptus and acacia I hear the trilling of the junco and call of red shouldered hawk. I see light sparkling on a natural stream that flows open to the air. I smell the Douglas fir, and I feel the sun pouring out her loving warmth and light. I envision bat houses and blooming native plants at the too perfect grounds of the Mormon temple, and I make a ritual out of speaking to the man who is digging up long untouched soil to redo a fence. I mourn at the spot where wild honeybees have been evicted from the hollow of a eucalyptus tree and I admire the honeycombs the bees had built.Let Aldo Leopold speak to you, and who knows what you might notice in your neighborhood. I'm planning to attend a gathering near Point Reyes in one month, Geography of Hope, and this year's inspiration behind the gathering is Aldo Leopold's land ethic. We will see a film called "Green Fire," and I can't wait to be with others who are still inspired by this man who lived 1887-1948. Deep Green Passion, here I come.A quote from Mr Leopold: "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds." (p. 183) That penalty also includes waves of pure joy.

  • jeremy
    2019-03-04 18:42

    it is a shame that some of the most important and beloved books become also the most neglected. taken for granted, these works are thus robbed of both majesty and worth (to say nothing of efficacy). it's as if certain books are deemed classic and then left to impart their wisdoms from atop a dusty shelf. a sand county almanac is roundly acknowledged as one of the most seminal titles in the nature/conservation/environmental writing genre, and like all great books it remains imperatively relative despite the passing years. leopold's writing is consistently vivid and animated, but it is in the final four essays that it nears brilliance in clarity and reasoning. in a time of gross disharmony over environmental policy, one would be well served in (re)reading this book to consider a well-delineated perspective articulated soundly.written in the late 1940's:...but wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. the whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.~a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided. it tends to ignore, and thus eventually to eliminate, many elements in the land community that lack commercial value, but that are (as far as we know) essential to its healthy functioning. it assumes, falsely, i think, that the economic parts of the biotic clock will function without the uneconomic parts.~ability to see the cultural value of wilderness boils down, in the last analysis, to a question of intellectual humility. the shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years.

  • Kerri Anne
    2019-03-08 18:59

    I want to tie this book to my heart like a kite and fly it daily. I want to know my grandfather and father found Leopold long before I did. I want the chance to talk to them about it, about conservation, about the way they taught me so much by letting me watch the way they loved and respected the woods, the lake, the pristine heartbeat of our wild places. I want to memorize full chapters to be able to recite them to the trail on long runs, my legs becoming one with the timeless stories only trees can tell. [Five brilliant stars for a voice to move, and save, mountains.]

  • Jayme
    2019-03-16 15:52

    There are three parts to this book. The first, 'A Sand County Almanac', is the prettiest part. Mostly essays about Leopold's love and connection with nature throughout his life. The second part, 'Sketches Here and There', is exactly that, essays about the places he has spent time in and his reflections on how we use and abuse these places. The last part, 'The Upshot', is the hardest writing. Here Leopoldo puts his background in forestry and wildlife management to use describing what's happening to our environment and what the future holds in store if it continues in this fashion.It's amazing when you look at the fact this was written sometime in the 40's how relevant Leopold's concerns and warnings still are. Some of the things he saw happening have become much worse and some are still an ongoing process. Have we really made so little progress in the last 60 years? Apparently...

  • Angie Curtis
    2019-02-27 16:00

    Powerful, inspiring, and passion driven is just a few words I would use to describe this book. Anyone who doubts the importance of conservations needs to read this book. I loved the book but it takes it made me cry, made me rage and made me question a lot of things. His words were powerful and really made me think about what I believe and how I impacted the world I lived in. You could feel so much in his words and on passage in particular will stay with me forever. " We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes-something only known to her and the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves meant a hunter's paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view" That my friends is a message that everyone needs to hear and understand!

  • John
    2019-02-21 15:33

    Passionate, thoughtful and with an eye for subtle beauty, Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac (much like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring) is a Bible for the modern environmental movement. His writing combines the acute perceptivity of the scientist with the holistic understanding of the conservationist. He preached the gospel of conservation before it was popular to do so; at a time when the memories of buffalo and passenger pigeons still swarmed like fruit flies over the collective guilty conscience of a people who were just waking up to the consequences of their impact on the world around them. He understood the connection between the health of the environment and the prosperity of mankind at a time when the science of ecology was still in it's infancy. As population and environmental pressures make themselves more painfully felt, I believe Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic will prove more pertinent than ever before, not just to the health of the environment, but to the future of humanity.

  • Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership
    2019-02-24 15:01

    One of Cambridge Sustainability's Top 50 Books for Sustainability, as voted for by our alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. To find out more, click here.Written from an experiential perspective, with a style that is often poetic, the main message of A Sand County Almanac is that the land is not there to serve us, but that we need to live in community with the land. Community without land is empty, so by threatening the land we are threatening community. The land, the people and the other species are all part of a circular system, which humans have disconnected from since industrialisation. If we fail to reconnect with nature, nature will suffer and humanity will suffer.

  • Richard Reese
    2019-03-14 15:42

    Aldo Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac, is near the top of many lists of environmental classics. It was published in 1949, and has sold over two million copies. He was born in Iowa in 1887, when Earth was inhabited by just 1.4 billion humans. It was an era before radio, television, automobiles, airplanes, computers, DDT, nuclear fission, and antibiotics. Most roads were dirt. Vast ancient forests still thrived. On the first page, Leopold informs us that this is a book for people who cannot live without wild things.Part one is a series of twelve sketches, one for each month. They describe how the land changes during the circle of the seasons — the return of the geese, the mating ritual of the woodcocks, the rutting of the deer, the bloody snow where predators snatched prey. They describe what life was like in simpler times, before the sprawl, the malls, the highways, the tsunami of idiotic consumer crap. People were more in touch with the life of the land, because it had not yet been deleted.In 1935, Leopold bought a farm in Wisconsin. The previous owner had tried and failed to make a living tilling the lean sandy soil. The place was cheap, far from the highway, worthless to civilization, but a precious sanctuary for a nature-loving professor. Luckily, the soil mining enterprise perished quickly, before it had time to exterminate the wildness.Leopold loved the great outdoors. He loved hiking and hunting. Birds fascinated him. He spent many years working for the U.S. Forest Service, and later became a professor of Game Management at the University of Wisconsin. Sadly, he lived in a culture that was waging full-scale war on nature, and this drove him mad. It was so senseless. During his life, the population had grown from 1.5 to 2.4 billion, an era of staggering out of control disruption.Part two presents observations, made in assorted times and places, about the damaged relationship between Americans and nature. This relationship was often abusive, because it lacked love. There often was no relationship at all. Many folks had no sense of connection to the rest of the family of life. For them, nature was nothing more than a treasure chest of resources that God created for the amusement of ambitious nutjobs.Leopold was saddened by the trends. He learned to never revisit places that had amazed him in his youth. It was too painful to see the damage that commerce and tourism were tirelessly inflicting. It was best not to turn sweet memories into heartbreaking nightmares.He was raised in an era when it was perfectly normal to kill wolves, coyotes, and other predators at every opportunity. These “vermin” killed too many game animals, depriving hunters of their rightful harvest. The most famous essay in this book is Thinking Like a Mountain. Having just shot a wolf, the gunman noticed a fierce green glow in its eyes. With the wolves eliminated, the deer multiplied in numbers, stripping the vegetation off the mountain, and wrecking the ecosystem. Deer lived in fear of wolves, and the mountain lived in fear of deer.Part three is essays describing the need for a land ethic. Cultures have ethics to define right and wrong. Traditionally, these defined person-to-person interactions, or the interactions between individuals and society. Leopold lamented that American culture lacked a land ethic, rules for living with the natural world, the family of life. In our culture, as long as the land was not claimed and defended by someone else, you were free to do whatever you pleased.Mainstream education was close to useless, because it was incapable of recognizing the glaring defects in the mainstream worldview. It loaded young minds with the crash-prone software of infantile self-interest. Generation after generation was being programmed to spend their lives as robotic servants to our economic system. The education system and the economic system were the two primary threats to the health of the land. Today, 65 years later, the lunacy has become a roaring hurricane. Leopold would be horrified and furious.Leopold was a pleasant lad, glowing with love for the natural world, and a gifted storyteller. But this should not be the only ecology book you ever read. Since 1949, there has been an explosion of research in anthropology, archaeology, ecology, and environmental history. Many important discoveries have been made about hunter-gatherers, agriculture, deforestation, civilization, finite resources, climate change, and ecological sustainability. Today’s deep ecologists will sneer at a few statements in the book, but in 1949, no one was more radical than Leopold.At the time, he knew we were on a bad path, and we needed to pay serious attention to where it was taking us. He clearly understood what we needed. He wrote, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” He was sketching out a concept now known as ecological sustainability. Here’s his land ethic in a nutshell: “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.” Great!Since the book was published, population has skyrocketed from 2.4 to 7.3 billion. Our leaders, educators, and the vast human herd remain lost in a dream world where perpetual growth is the only channel on the glowing screens. It has paralyzed our culture, and condemned our descendants. It’s running out of time. Hopefully, in its aftermath, important lessons will be learned and never forgotten.Leopold’s book was written “for people who cannot live without wild things.” As the swelling mobs surge into vast cities, our disconnection from wild nature is almost complete. We have forgotten who we are, and where we came from. Well, we’re wild animals, and we came from wild nature, like every other critter. Darwin revealed this embarrassing secret, but it still makes us uncomfortable, since it clashes with our deepest, darkest myths, our grandiose illusions of superiority.These anthropocentric myths have ancient roots in every civilized culture, and they are like venomous brain worms that turn us into planet thrashing monsters. In 1949, few expressed doubts about these myths, but Leopold did. He was a flaming radical in his day. He often dreamed that the progressive movement would eventually grow, flourish, and address the primary challenges of our time, but reality hasn’t cooperated.His vision of a land ethic would have been a first step, but not a miraculous cure. No other animal needs a formal system of rules and regulations to discourage self-destructive behavior. Like our chimp and bonobo cousins, the others have never forgotten who they are, or how to live. Thinking like an animal has worked perfectly for millions of years. Thinking like a conqueror has been a disastrous failure.

  • Mike Mensing
    2019-03-10 14:44

    The war between the forest and prairie, the return of geese every March and cutting down a tree for firewood; these are just some of the things that Aldo Leopold writes about in his novel A Sand County Almanac. The novel is split into four distinct parts, but every part of the book is about the environment, either how to save it or the author’s experiences of it. Most of the book is about Aldo’s experiences in the wilderness, which are split between his cabin in Wisconsin and his many trips throughout North America. The author constantly argues that the environment is crucial for human beings, either by giving the reader ideas on how to save it or by supplying a great deal of stories about how the environment has effected his life. The author also contends that it is a danger to forget about the environment for many reasons. “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace” (Leopold, 6). Through interesting language that makes the reader hold onto every word, the author writes stories about wildlife and wilderness that make it impossible not to appreciate the outdoors. For example, not many people would want to read about how bur oaks are able to live in the prairie, but Aldo makes this subject seem so interesting that the reader will never forget why they are able to live in the prairie. Even though the author continuously argues about the environment throughout the novel, it is not a hard read at all. Aldo writes this novel as if he were an average Joe that loves the outdoors. Through his great story telling about things like how a plant sprouts every summer, the author shows the reader how important even the littlest things in the environment really are. The author’s love for the environment is shown throughout A Sand County Almanac especially when he explains the best ways, in his opinion to save the planet. First, he tells the reader that they say they love America and this country, but they don’t love the country that America was built right on top of. When the author talks about the country that America was built on top of, he is not talking about another country as we might think of, but he is talking about the dirt and soil and wilderness that we built America right on top of. “Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization” (Leopold, 264). Given that the book was written in the 1940’s and may be a little out of date for conservation, it is a must read for all of those even mildly interested in the outdoors. No matter your interest in the outdoors, A Sand County Almanac will make you appreciate wilderness even more. The reader will have a new outlook on even the smallest things, even dirt, when they step foot outside. It’s a shame that the author passed away shortly after finishing this book because the world would be better off with more books like this one.

  • Sandie
    2019-03-10 14:53

    I had to read this book for a middle childhood education class that integrated social studies and science. We had to read this book for our final exam and write 8 responses to 8 quotes we found in the book. Simple enough. But I put off reading this book because I thought it would be boring and statistical. To my surprise, I actually loved it. It was more than just a capture of the goings on at the author's farm in Wisconsin; it blended history and societal downfalls that are threatening to dissolve our naturalistic world. I loved the author's thoughts and feelings about the withering and gradually disintegrating environment...even though this was written in the late '30s and published in the late '40s, his opinions and concerns are still very relevant today. I recommend giving this book a is very similar to the works of Walden, if that kind of work grabs you :)

  • Nancy
    2019-03-10 19:39

    I was overwhelmed and saddened by the information in this book. Even back in the early part of the century, the environment was in serious trouble. I worry about the future of our planet...with all we know about the rhythmns of the natural world...humans continue to destroy the wonders of our world. From aerial wolf killing in Alaska (thanks, Sarah Palin), to the trashing of the world by amazing amounts of garbage (WALL-E)...well things don't look good for future generations. Everyone should read Aldo Leopold...and be afraid, be very afraid of what humans are doing to mother earth.

  • Joel
    2019-02-28 18:41

    An optimist might easily describe Aldo Leopold, along with John Muir and Henry Thoreau, as a pioneer species in the eventual succession of modern environmentalism. To the pessimist he remains a shunned prophet, whose advice was relevant at its conception, continues to be so, and yet is repeatedly ignored. No wonder the cry of the eco-warrior resounds ever more desperately! The work for which Leopold is most famous, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, was first published in 1949, twenty-three years before the founding of Greenpeace. The longevity and continued pertinence of his work is evident, particularly demonstrated by the introduction of the ‘land ethic’, a term as prominent now within environmental discourse as Escudilla Mountain on an east Arizona horizon (p. 133). However, if he had lived to experience the reception of this book, Leopold would have most likely construed the label ‘visionary’ as an insult, no doubt insisting his senses other than sight as astute. For that matter, he would have been in all likelihood adamant that it was not he who was worthy of praise, and that any fan mail should be addressed to his dog, a long term companion and Professor of Logic (p.63). The book is certainly curious in its arrangement. The first section, A Sand County Almanac, is a series of short, descriptive essays on nature observed from his Wisconsin backwater retreat set around the Gregorian calendar, which forms a convenient framework for both author and reader. Leopold is quick to point out, however, that nature obeys no such rigid representation of time, but is in fact the orchestrator. To his mind a skunk’s track marks the beginning of a ‘cycle of beginnings and ceasings which we call a year’ (p. 3). Nature is the canvas on which the behaviour of various organisms paints a picture of time: seasonal activities depict a year, their instinctive habits illustrate a sense of eternity. Thus the mystique of nature and its transcendence over the human world are succinctly introduced. This theme is further exemplified later in the book: the annual return of cranes to a marsh ‘is the ticking of the geologic clock’ and thus they exist not only ‘in the constricted present, but in the wider reaches of evolutionary time’ (p. 97). The short descriptive chapters of the first two parts of the book, the second of which furthers the scope of the book to more remote locations and distant times, build towards the academic essays that make up The Upshot, the final section, wherein Leopold sets out to achieve the reintegration of the human and the natural world through his theory of the land ethic.To call the book visually emotive is to tell only half the story. The rich, lucid text appeals to all the senses, as Leopold brings remote wilderness scenes within earshot. The dog, meanwhile, routinely proffers his opinions on the landscape through his preferred medium of smell. The pace is leisurely, much like a wander in the outdoors, allowing curiosity to dictate direction. The unorthodox style of the book’s structure avoids irony when the author states that education is better learnt through awareness than via book. His assertion that ‘every farm woodland... should provide its owner a liberal education’ (p. 73). Never has there been a better, if unwitting, justification for geographical fieldwork. It recalls Lin Yutang, when he writes ‘a man who knows how to read finds everything becomes a book... hills and waters are also books’ in The Importance of Living. A Sand County Almanac reads similarly to fiction, only there is little in the way of characters. We learn little of the forester telling the story, outside his clear eccentricities, and even less of the dog. Instead, character development is dedicated in the main to nature. Encouraged by the innumerable personifications made by the author, notably the discussion on the way different species of pine ‘differ radically in their opinions about marriageable age’ (p.85), the reader is encouraged to invest emotionally in the plight of nature, such as one would accord a protagonist in a novel. In a time before documentaries such as Planet Earth (2008) or The Private Life of Plants (1995) existed, this book plays an important role in enamoring nature to the reader. Modern readers may benefit from the intertextuality of the modern wildlife film and A Sand County Almanac, and British readers might find it difficult, if it weren’t for the occasional Americanism and the exclusive States setting, to separate Attenborough and Leopold in their minds. Both are easy narrators with which to get along, and both share a love of personification when describing nature. The great virtue of this part of the book, and arguably the greatest talent of Leopold, is the way in which he can create a connection between reader and every aspect of nature. Further to the light work he makes of giving personality to the organic (for example: ‘there is much small-talk and neighbourhood gossip among pines’ (p. 83)), he succeeds in doing similar justice to the inorganic. The tale of atom X as he passes through the nitrogen cycle in a chapter entitled Odyssey springs to mind. The suggestion ‘for the last word in procrastination, go travel with a river reluctant to lose his freedom to the sea’ says it all. Set out in the foreword are the principle ideas expounded by the volume. Ecology is worthy of study, environmental conservation is of paramount importance, and ‘the land yields a cultural harvest’. However, it is not until the final part of the book that these concepts are given full philosophical and academic analysis. In summary Leopold asserts that the solutions to mankind’s problems can be found in nature and advocates an ‘ecological interpretation of history’ (p. 205). He also states that research into ecology is necessary so that agriculture can be informed to improve its environmental sustainability. The conservation of nature is important because science is infant in its knowledge of the symbioses of the world environment, as demonstrated by the ecological disaster of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. The idea of the embeddedness of culture in nature, is perhaps the assertion most vulnerable to attack in the postmodern age, and perhaps the theorem through which the book shows most its age. To today’s Western man, culture is a world of screens, celebrity and cosmopolitanism. The man who finds national culture in the nature of his locality, and defines himself in terms of outdoor pursuits is arguably a thing of the past, or at the most a minority. The book culminates with the formulation of ‘the land ethic’, in Leopold’s words the enlargement of ‘the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively: the land’. It is this demand for an alternative to the anthropocentric ideologies of the age, which resonates so loudly to this day and continues to inspire new generations of environmentalists. From the book it is possible to infer some of the politics of Leopold, and it is in this respect that some readers will have difficulty sympathising with his views completely. In the book, Leopold writes of ‘the land’, but perhaps it would be more suiting for him to write of ‘the Land’, such is his belief that human salvation is attainable only though the embracing of nature, or perhaps even subordination to it. He is almost fanatical in his admiration. In his eccentricity, which he freely indulges throughout the first parts of the book, he finds wonder in things that the average human might find quite uninteresting. He writes that the ‘ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty (p. 96). The unfortunate fact may be that this is where such an ability also ends for the majority. Socialists and feminists among others might ridicule his formulation of a ‘land ethic’, instead prioritising a ‘human ethic’ which is yet to be realised. On reading the book one can infer that Leopold was not only a conservationist but also a conservative. British readers might identify him as of the One Nation conservative mold, others as a compassionate conservative. He places great stress on the value of the wilderness as an arena in which to foister an American sense of self-sustainability, and talks of the importance of nurturing national culture through nature, but at the same time recognises that ‘politics and economics are advanced symbioses’ of ‘co-operative mechanisms with an ethical content’ (p. 202). One can imagine how, in an alternative reality of random dinner dates, any interchanges over buck steak and sour-dough biscuit between Aldo Leopold and Edward Luttwak, author of Turbo Capitalism (2000) would be both complimentary and amicable. This prompts the question: was Leopold a true progressive, as modern day environmentalists tend to self-identify, or was he a Luddite, antagonistic of modern ways of life and merely wanting to return to the time and place of the wildernesses of his youth? Is the land ethic philosophy a yearning for a distant past or a utopian future? Or both? Does it even matter? The endangered species has as little interest in the motivations of its saviour as in his opinions on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Such inferences may grate, however, with modern sensibilities, as do his old-fashioned references to ‘civilised’ and ‘primitive’ peoples.See comments for conclusion of review...

  • Caroline
    2019-03-06 15:47

    What a delightful surprise!I took an environmental science class in high school and as part of the class we had to read one environmental science book from a provided list. I ended up picking a super boring book about sea ice* whose title I don't remember. But, I remember seeing A Sand County Almanac as one of the options and being intrigued by the title. Also, it was written by a man called Aldo Leopold, which is just an awesome name. Between those two things, this book managed to stick itself in my memory as something I wanted to check out.When I checked the book out from the library and realized that it was much older than I thought and a foundational text in environmental non-fiction, my interest became a bit more cautious. I had every intention of still reading it, but I think I mentally braced myself for a bit of a slog. I cracked the book expected something Walden-esque. Dense, but ultimately worthwhile.My expectations could not have been more off base. Instead of philosophical treatises on the environment, Aldo Leopold trafficked in beautifully rendered vignettes that contained some philosophical musings, yes, but also descriptions of nature from someone with both a deep love and understanding of the natural world. This book exudes warmth.A Sand County Alamanc is comprised of three sections: the first is the almanac itself, within which Leopold describes his farm in one of Wisconsin's sand counties (so called because of their sandy soil), with each chapter comprising of a snapshot of one of the year's twelve months. Leopold's prose is just gorgeous and infused with the love and wonder he feels for the nature he gets to experience on his farm. Each chapter made my heart hurt a little bit, but in a happy way. I particularly loved the essays "A Good Oak" and "Too Early," but everything in this section was just tender.The next section is called "Sketches Here and There," and in it Leopold broadens his view to the rest of the western United States, with essays about his experiences in Utah, Texas, California, and more. While still lovely, these essays don't have the intimacy of those in the previous section. Reasonably enough, as how can you write about a foreign place in the same way you write about home?The third and final section is "The Upshot" and here's where the philosophical musings rear their head. I remember tensing up a bit at this point, worrying that the flow of the text and my enjoyment of it were both going to falter. I shouldn't have worried. Leopold describes his idea of a "land ethic" with the same readable prose as the rest of the book. There's a reason this book is a classic of conservation writing - it's smart, foundational stuff and Leopold primes you for his message by having you more or less drunk on his descriptions of the natural world by the time you get to the theory.One last thing worth mentioning was the thread of science that ran through the writing. Aldo Leopold didn't just enjoy writing about the beauty of the natural world from his farm. He was a trained at the Yale School of Forestry, worked for the Forest Service, and was a professor of wildlife management at the University of Wisconsin Madison. I was surprised and delighted by the scientific ideas that Leopold incorporated into his writing, particularly those of evolution and biology. It provided additional depth to an already wonderful book. 4.5 stars.*I'm sure an interesting book about sea ice exists, but it certainly wasn't the one that I ended up reading.

  • Matt Cline
    2019-02-21 15:49


  • Sheri
    2019-03-17 18:59

    So we started this today as a family read-aloud. The goal is a chapter (corresponding to a month) a day for the next 12 days.January thoughts. I liked the narcissistic representation of the animals. Each is incapable of noticing the others; I found the economic description of the meadow mouse's tunnels under the snow and the grass buried in ground especially entertaining.February is all about the felling of an oak tree. I have a burr oak in my backyard that is 200+ years old; as Leopold travels back in time (although I must say that too many of his years were simply full of fires or drought...couldn't he find something unique about each year?) through the sawing of the tree, I was thinking about how different in scale time is for a tree than a human.March tells the story of the geese. I enjoyed Leopold's comment about his learned friend who had never noticed the migration of the geese. I am not quite that bad, but it is a good reminder to pay attention to the passing season. We also had a lovely discussion between the four of us about the benefits of being a muskrat. Is it that they eat geese or that they would be able to move about among the geese without disturbing their pattern of behavior?April has a great description of the love dance of the woodcock (as a nightly entertainment) and also a short essay on the veteran bur oaks (of which mine is one).The nesting plovers in May give a new definition to field ownership. Although, I'm not sure I've ever seen a plover; maybe the forest conservationists were not just in time as Leopold asserts.June is the story of the non-prudent fisherman. The kids were interested in the fact that Leopold fishes by hand (not with a rod and reel). I thought about how different their attitudes are when at the lake; if they catch fish (some years they do) then all is well, but the years that they do not catch fish are boring and treacherous for all.July was wonderful on two fronts. First, we have a compass plant in our front yard (planted by my father in law who is a lover of all things prairie) and second, my dog(s) also does not believe in the tenure rights of birds.August was about the river painting a picture, although I wasn't convinced it was the river. Yes, the water level is determined by the river and it is a good focal point but most of the color is in the flowers and the grass, neither of which are fed by the river.September deals with the songs of the elusive birds. I am getting to a point in this book where I am not quite sure about the distinction between chapters. They all sort of seem to be about listening to the birds.October is great for those of us early morning risers: "unlike those who sleep late, they are given to understatement of their own achievements." I'm not sure I quite agree (and not convinced that he makes an argument for such), but it is a cute quip.November is described by the pine and the birch and the trees on Leopold's farm. Maybe it is just because I am currently reading Ayn Rand as well, but the description of the tools (axe and shovel and all else as a derivation thereof) meant more to me than the description of the trees. I'm glad that we are down to only one more month.December features my favorite quote: "moderation is best in all things"; this is something I frequently spout. My kids loved the story of the tagged chickadee who managed to live for 5 years.So, I finished the rest on my own (the family assignment was just for Sand County Almanac) because I felt like I should read the full thing for reviewing. Part II of this book is similar to SCA, it is more descriptive natural observations and stories focused mostly on place. Leopold describes more of WI, IL, CO, AZ, NM as well as some of Mexico. His description is beautiful, but personally it is not really my cup of tea.Part III was more interesting; he gives substantive explication to his theories on conservation. I found his arguments compelling and prescient (given the extent of natural areas during the time he wrote as compared to modern times). Having just finished reading Atlas Shrugged, I found Leopold's viewpoint to be even more compelling; he argues that we need to see land as biota, rather than just soil and emphasizes that "a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided." I enjoyed his comparison between Odysseus's murder of the slave girls and our continual destruction of natural places: until and unless we recognize the value in all living creatures we will not give adequate respect or attention to conservation. He argues that the composition of plant life (even plants that are not "economically relevant") determines the structure of the soil, which in turn does affect our own food chain (either through the growth of useful plants like corn or food for animals that then become plants). He demonstrates how loss of predators can leave to over development of prey which then changes the plant composition. I am glad to have read this. Living in Madison, I have come across Leopold's name and rough outline of his ideas. It is remarkable just how forward thinking he was, given that he was writing in the 1920s-1940s on issues that were yet to be so apparent.

  • Ticklish Owl
    2019-03-15 17:57

    As a child, I read what my father read, eschewing the anemic books intended for those my age. I was fortunate in that regard, as my father was interested in a great many things. My first reading of A Sand County Almanac has remained vivid in my memory—perched in a tree, a battered metal canteen cool against my side, and the overwhelming sense of the world being a wonderful, mysterious, magical place. Be gentle with living things, explore, observe, be kind.If you have even a passing interest in nature, you should read this little book. Aldo Leopold had a gift for seeing the world. His writing shines with the love he had for what he saw.'To me an ancient cottonwood is the greatest of trees because in his youth he shaded the buffalo and wore a halo of pigeons, and I like a young cottonwood because he may some day become ancient.'and'Men still live who, in their youth, remember [passenger] pigeons. Trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a decade hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.'You might also enjoy:✱ Summer World✱ Winter World✱ The Inner Life of Animals✱ My First Summer in the Sierra✱ American Serengeti✱ The Peregrine