Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Classic for a Reason


After years of reading excerpts from Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, and even after visiting his family's famous shack and the nearby educational center operated by The Aldo Leopold Foundation, I finally sat down to read it cover to cover. How happy I am that I finally did!

In a series of short essays tracing the seasons from January to December, followed by a handful of place-oriented pieces, Leopold blends his views of the often uneasy relationship between modern humankind and ancient-but-evolving Nature with his sharp and careful observations of phenomena in the field. It's a satisfying pairing that makes his vision of an ecosystem-wide "land ethic" accessible and understandable to the humans who are also part of that land community, whether they come to the book as naturalists, or not.   

It's no wonder that this work -- ahead of its time when published in 1949, after Leopold's death -- has endured among environmentalists and others who care enough to explore the possibility of a positive, supportive, unexploitive relationship between humans and the places they live. Leopold has a knack for pushing the reader toward certain conclusions, without being overbearing about it. His words are saturated with love and enthusiasm, without sentimentality or idealization of the realities of the food web. After all, Leopold was a hunter as well as a conservationist. 

May this classic continue to inspire generations of readers to participate more consciously, more actively, and more gently in the broad natural systems that surround them.

Excerpt (regarding the passenger pigeon, extinct since September 1, 1914, when the last known pigeon died):

There will always be pigeons in books and in museums, but these are effigies and images, dead to all hardships and to all delights. Book-pigeons cannot dive out of a cloud to make the deer run for cover, or clap their wings in thunderous applause of mast-laden woods. Book-pigeons cannot breakfast on new-mown wheat in Minnesota, and dine on blueberries in Canada. They know no urge of seasons; they feel no kiss of sun, no lash of wind and weather. They live forever by not living at all.

Our grandfathers were less well-housed, well-fed, well-clothed than we are. The strivings by which they bettered their lot are also those which deprived us of pigeons. Perhaps we now grieve because we are not sure, in our hearts, that we have gained by the exchange. The gadgets of industry bring us more comforts than the pigeons did, but do they add as much to the glory of the spring?

Note: I read this book for the Reading Naturally Challenge 2018. and the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018.

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