A Sand County Almanac (PDF)

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					A Discussion Guide for

A Sand County

With Text from:
•   Foreword
•   Good Oak
•   Axe-In-Hand
•   Marshland Elegy
•   Thinking Like a Mountain
•   The Outlook
                                          —— Who Was Aldo Leopold? ——
                                Aldo Leopold’s life and legacy are hard to
                                categorize. He is best known as the author of
                                A Sand County Almanac. Published one year
                                after he died in 1948, the book has become a
                                classic expression of an ecological perspective

    There are some who can      on people and land.

                                The Early Years
                                Aldo Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa in

    live without wild things    1887. Through his family’s influence, he became
                                interested in the outdoors at a very young age,
                                spending much of his childhood observing,
                                sketching, and interacting with the natural

     and some who cannot.       world. His love of the outdoors helped him
                                decide to become a forester, and he graduated
                                from the Yale Forest School in 1909.

These essays are the delights   The Young Forester
                                During his career with the U.S. Forest Service,
                                Aldo Leopold worked in Arizona and New Mexico, blazing the trail for new
                                developments in range, recreation, game, fire, and watershed management. In 1922,

    and dilemmas of one who     he developed a proposal to make part of the Gila National Forest the country’s first
                                Wilderness Area. It became the model for what are now more than 100 million acres
                                of such areas designated by Congress.

            cannot.             The Professor
                                Leopold returned to the Midwest in 1924, where he began to lay the groundwork
                                for the new science and profession of wildlife management. In 1933 he accepted a
                                chair of game management, the first in the nation, in the Department of Agricultural
                                Economics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he would work on
                                the problems of Wisconsin’s eroded and exhausted lands in the midst of the Great

                                The Shack
                                In 1935, he and his family bought a worn out farm along the Wisconsin River outside
                                of Baraboo, Wisconsin. Planting thousands of pine trees, restoring the prairie, and
                                keeping careful track of the changes in the natural landscape inspired Leopold to
                                write many of the essays that would eventually make up A Sand County Almanac.

                                The Land Ethic
                                In the last essay in A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold made the case for [the
                                evolution of ] an ethical relationship [or, for the extension of ethics] to the land
                                community—soils, waters, plants and animals as well as people. He believed it was
                                critical that people have a close personal connection with land, writing “we can be
                                ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise
                                have faith in.”
                       —— Foreword ——                                                    we dissenters rationalize our dissent. Only the very sympathetic reader will wish to
                                                                                         wrestle with the philosophical questions of Part III. I suppose it may be said that
                                                                                         these essays tell the company how it may get back in step.
         Key Concept: Community                                                          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.
         Leopold encouraged people to expand their vision of the world                   When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with
         around them to include the natural world in their community as                  love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized
         they would their neighbors. When people begin to looks at plants,               man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of
         animals, soils, and waters in that way, they may consider them in               contributing to culture.
         a different way.
                                                                                         That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved
                                                                                         and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact

       here are some who can live                                                        long known, but latterly often forgotten.
       without wild things, and some                                                     These essays attempt to weld these three concepts.
       who cannot. These essays are
                                                                                         Such a view of land and people is, of course subject to the blurs and distortions of
the delights and dilemmas of one who
                                                                                         personal experience and personal bias. But wherever the truth may lie, this much is
                                                                                         crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed
Like winds and sunsets, wild things were                                                 with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The
taken for granted until progress began to                                                whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to
do away with them. Now we face the                                                       build them, or even to turn off the tap. Nothing could be more salutary at this stage
question whether a still higher ‘standard                                                than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.
of living’ is worth its cost in things
                                                                                         Perhaps such a shift of values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame,
natural, wild, and free. For us of the
                                                                                         and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free.
minority, the opportunity to see geese is
more important than television, and the                                                                                                                        Aldo Leopold
chance to find a pasque-flower is a right                                                                                                                Madison, Wisconsin
as inalienable as free speech.                                                                                                                                4 March 1948
These wild things, I admit had little
human value until mechanization
assured us of a good breakfast and until                                                    Questions for Discussion
science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole
conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of           • Compare your values with Leopold’s: Is the ability to see geese more
diminishing returns in progress; our opponents do not.                                        important to you than television? Are you one who can live without wild
                                                                                              things or one who cannot? How do various groups in American society
One must make shift with things as they are. These essays are my shifts. They are             currently determine the value of wild things? How is this demonstrated?
grouped in three parts.                                                                       How do disagreements about values play out?
Part I tells what my family sees and does at its week-end refuge from too much              • Leopold talks about the need to “get the company back in step.” Who is the
modernity: ‘the shack.’ On this sand farm in Wisconsin, first worn out and then               company? What does Leopold suggest might be needed for the company to
abandoned by our bigger-and-better society, we try to rebuild, with shovel and axe,           get back in step? Has the definition of conservation changed or stayed the
what we are losing elsewhere. It is here that we seek—and still find—our meat from            same since Leopold’s time?
                                                                                            • What does Leopold refer to when he talks about “community” in the essay?
These shack sketches are arranged seasonally as a ‘Sand County Almanac.’                      Who is part of your community? Your family, friends, neighbors? Does it
Part II, ‘Sketches Here and There,’ recounts some of the episodes in my life that             include the trees in your yard or the birds at your feeder? How about the
taught me, gradually and sometimes painfully, that the company is out of step. These          soil in your garden?
episodes, scattered over the continent and through forty years of time, present a fair      • How have attitudes toward the natural world changed since Leopold’s time?
sample of the issues that bear the collective label: conservation.                            Since the first settlers arrived in America? In all human history?
Part III, ‘The Upshot,’ sets forth, in more logical terms, some of the ideas whereby

                       —— Good Oak ——                                                       the product either of rabbit negligence or of rabbit scarcity. Some day some patient
                                                                                            botanist will draw a frequency curve of oak birth-years, and show that the curve
                                                                                            humps every ten years, each hump originating from a low in the ten-year rabbit cycle.
                                                                                            (A fauna and flora, by this very process of perpetual battle within and among species,
                                                                                            achieve collective immortality.)
                                                                                            It is likely, then, that a low in rabbits occurred in the middle ‘sixties, when my oak
                                                                                            began to lay on annual rings, but that the acorn that produced it fell during the
                                                                                            preceding decade, when the covered wagons were still passing over my road into the
                                                                                            Great Northwest. It may have been the wash and wear of the emigrant traffic that
                                                                                            bared this roadbank, and thus enabled this particular acorn to spread its first leaves to
                                                                                            the sun. Only one acorn in a thousand ever grew large enough to fight rabbits; the
                                                                                            rest were drowned at birth in the prairie sea.
                                                                                            It is a warming thought that this one wasn’t, and thus lived to garner eighty years of
                                                                                            June sun. It is this sunlight that is now being released, through the intervention of
                                                                                            my axe and saw, to warm my shack and my spirit through eighty gusts of blizzard.
                                                                                            And with each gust a wisp of smoke from my chimney bears witness, to whomsoever
                                                                                            it may concern, that the sun did not shine in vain.
                                                                                            My dog does not care where heat comes from, but he cares ardently that it come,
                                                                                            and soon. Indeed he considers my ability to make it come as something magical, for
         Key Concept: Connections                                                           when I rise in the cold black pre-dawn and kneel shivering by the hearth making a
         We are connected to the world around us through the food we eat                    fire, he pushes himself blandly between me and the kindling splits I have laid on the
         and the resources we use. Work can connect us to the pieces of the                 ashes, and I must touch a match to them by poking it between his legs. Such faith, I
         natural world that support us and to the history they embody.                      suppose, is the kind that moves mountains.
                                                                                            It was a bolt of lightning that put an end to wood-making by this particular oak. We
                                                                                            were all awakened, one night in July, by the thunderous crash; we realized that the
                                                                                            bolt must have hit near by, but, since it had not hit us, we all went back to sleep. Man

       here are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of            brings all things to the test of himself, and this is notably true of lightning.
       supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat             Next morning, as we strolled over the sandhill rejoicing with the cone-flowers and the
       comes from the furnace.                                                              prairie clovers over their fresh accession of rain, we came upon a great slab of bark freshly
To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no          torn from the trunk of the roadside oak. The trunk showed a long spiral scar of barkless
grocer to confuse the issue.                                                                sapwood, a foot
                                                                                            wide and not yet
To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably          yellowed by the
where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses       sun. By the next
the trees outside. If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own good oak and let        day the leaves
his mind work the while, he will remember much about where the heat comes from,             had wilted, and
and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the week end in town astride          we knew that the
a radiator.                                                                                 lightning      had
                                                                                            bequeathed to
                                          * * *                                             us three cords of
The particular oak now aglow on my andirons grew on the bank of the old emigrant            prospective fuel
road where it climbs the sandhill. The stump, which I measured upon felling the tree,       wood.
has a diameter of 30 inches. It shows 80 growth rings, hence the seedling from which
it originated must have laid its first ring of wood in 1865, at the end of the Civil War.   We mourned the
But I know from the history of present seedlings that no oak grows above the reach          loss of the old
of rabbits without a decade or more of getting girdled each winter, and re-sprouting        tree, but knew
during the following summer. Indeed, it is all too clear that every surviving oak is        that a dozen of

                                                                                           of trunk are up-ended one by one, only to fall apart in fragrant slabs to be corded by
                                                                                           the roadside.
                                                                                           There is an allegory for historians in the diverse functions of saw, wedge, and axe.
                                                                                           The saw works only across the years, which it must deal with one by one, in sequence.
                                                                                           From each year the raker teeth pull little chips of fact, which accumulate in little piles,
                                                                                           called sawdust by woodsmen and archives by historians; both judge the character of
                                                                                           what lies within by the character of the samples thus made visible without. It is not
                                                                                           until the transect is completed that the tree falls, and the stump yields a collective
                                                                                           view of a century. By its fall the tree attests the unity of the hodge-podge called
                                                                                           The wedge, on the other hand, works only in radial splits; such a split yields a collective
                                                                                           view of all the years at once, or no view at all, depending on the skill with which the
its progeny standing straight and stalwart on the sands had already taken over its job     plane of the split Is chosen. (If in doubt, let the section season for a year until a
of wood-making.                                                                            crack develops. Many a hastily driven wedge lies rusting in the woods, embedded in
                                                                                           unsplittable cross-grain.)
We let the dead veteran season for a year in the sun it could no longer use, and then
on a crisp winter’s day we laid a newly filed saw to its bastioned base. Fragrant little   The axe functions only at an angle diagonal to the years, and this only for the
chips of history spewed from the saw cut, and accumulated on the snow before each          peripheral rings of the recent past. Its special function is to lop limbs, for which both
kneeling sawyer. We sensed that these two piles of sawdust were something more             saw and wedge are useless.
than wood: that they were the integrated transect of a century; that our saw was           The three tools are requisite to good oak, and to good history.
biting its way, stroke by stroke, decade by decade, into the chronology of a lifetime,
written in concentric annual rings of good oak.                                                                                   * * *
                                                                                           These things I ponder as the kettle sings, and the good oak burns to red coals on
                                        * * *
It took only a dozen pulls of the saw to transect the few years of our ownership,          white ashes. Those ashes, come spring, I will return to the orchard at the foot of
during which we had learned to love and cherish this farm. Abruptly we began to            the sandhill. They will come back to me again, perhaps as red apples, or perhaps
cut the years of our predecessor the bootlegger, who hated this farm, skinned it of        as a spirit of enterprise in some fat October squirrel, who, for reasons unknown to
residual fertility, burned its farmhouse, threw it back into the lap of the County (with   himself, is bent on planting acorns.
delinquent taxes to boot), and then disappeared among the landless anonymities of
the Great Depression. Yet the oak had laid down good wood for him; his sawdust was
as fragrant, as sound, and as pink as our own. An oak is no respecter of persons.
                                                                                              Questions for Discussion
The reign of the bootlegger ended sometime during the dust-bowl drouths of 1936,
1934, 1933, and 1930. Oak smoke from his still and peat from burning marshlands               • Leopold worries people no longer truly know where heat or food comes
must have clouded the sun in those years, and alphabetical conseryation was abroad              from. Think about what you had for breakfast. Do you know where it
in the land, but the sawdust shows no change.                                                   actually came from? Have you ever been to a farm? Do you heat your
                                                                                                home with coal, natural gas, wood, corn, electricity? How is the electricity
Rest! cries the chief sawyer, and we pause for breath.                                          generated?
                                        * * *                                                 • Do you agree that there could actually be a “spiritual danger” in not
We have cut the core. Our saw now reverses its orientation in history; we cut                   knowing the source of your food and energy? Why or why not?
backward across the years, and outward toward the far side of the stump. At last              • This essay not only connects the natural and cultural aspects of our land, it
there is a tremor in the great trunk; the saw-kerf suddenly widens; the saw is quickly          also describes one of the Leopold family’s physical activities, making wood.
pulled as the sawyers spring backward to safety; all hands cry ‘Timber!’; my oak leans,         Have you ever cut, split, hauled firewood? What tools did you use?
groans, and crashes with earth-shaking thunder, to lie prostrate across the emigrant
road that gave it birth.                                                                      • The oak tree acts as a history book telling the history of conservation in
                                                                                                Wisconsin. Imagine using a tree in your yard to tell a history of your
                                       *   *   *                                                town, neighborhood, and family. What would your story be?
Now comes the job of making wood. The maul rings on steel wedges as the sections

                      —— Axe-in-Hand ——                                                       I find it disconcerting to analyze, ex post
                                                                                              facto, the reasons behind my own axe-
                                                                                                                                              some weight, but none of them carries
                                                                                                                                              very much.

                                                                                              in-hand decisions. I find, first of all, that   So I try again, and here perhaps
        he Lord giveth, and the Lord                                                          not all trees are created free and equal.
        taketh away, but He is no Ionger                                                                                                      is something; under this pine will
                                                                                              Where a white pine and a red birch are
        the only one to do so. When                                                                                                           ultimately grow a trailing arbutus, an
                                                                                              crowding each other, I have an a priori
some remote ancestor of ours invented                                                                                                         Indian pipe, a pyrola, or a twin flower,
                                                                                              bias; I always cut the birch to favor the
the shovel, he became a giver: he could                                                                                                       whereas under the birch a bottle gentian
                                                                                              pine. Why?
plant a tree. And when the axe was                                                                                                            is about the best to be hoped for. In
invented, he became a taker: he could                                                         Well, first of all, I planted the pine with     this pine a pileated woodpecker will
chop it down. Whoever owns land has                                                           my shovel, whereas the birch crawled in         ultimately chisel out a nest; in the birch a
thus assumed, whether he knows it or                                                          under the fence and planted itself. My          hairy will have to suffice. In this pine the
not, the divine functions of creating and                                                     bias is thus to some extent paternal, but       wind will sing for me in April, at which
destroying plants.                                                                            this cannot be the whole story, for if          time the birch is only rattling naked
                                                                                              the pine were a natural seedling like the       twigs. These possible reasons for my bias
                                                                                              birch, I would value it even more. So           carry weight, but why? Does the pine
Key Concept: Decisions                                                                        I must dig deeper for the logic, if any,        stimulate my imagination and my hopes
                                                                                              behind my bias.                                 more deeply than the birch does? If so, is
Leopold asserted that each piece of land looks the way it does today
because of past decisions. He suggests that any decision reflects                             The birch is an abundant tree in my             the difference in the trees, or in me?
our personal and collective values and biases. Each person will                               township and becoming more so, whereas          The only conclusion I have ever reached
formulate their decisions differently, but by thinking about the                              pine is scarce and becoming scarcer;            is that I love all trees, but I am in love
ultimate effect of your actions, you can choose the evidence you will                         perhaps my bias is for the underdog. But        with pines.
behind for others.                                                                            what would I do if my farm were further
                                                                                              north, where pine is abundant and red                           * * *
                                                                                              birch is scarce? I confess I don’t know.        I find my biases more numerous than
Other ancestors, less remote, have since                                                      My farm is here.                                those of my neighbors because I have
invented other tools, but each of these,                                                      The pine will live for a century, the birch     individual likings for many species that
upon close scrutiny, proves to be either                                                      for half that; do I fear that my signature      they lump under one aspersive category:
an elaboration of, or an accessory to, the                                                    will fade? My neighbors have planted no         brush. Thus I like the wahoo, partly
original pair of basic implements. We                                                         pines but all have many
classify ourselves into vocations, each of                                                    birches; am I snobbish
which either wields some particular tool,        can see just how the branches intertwine,    about having a woodlot
or sells it, or repairs it, or sharpens it, or   and what growth occurred last summer.        of distinction? The pine
dispenses advice on how to do so; by such        Without this clear view of treetops, one     stays green all winter, the
division of labors we avoid responsibility       cannot be sure which tree, if any, needs     birch punches the clock
for the misuse of any tool save our own.         felling for the good of the land.            in October; do I favor
But there is one vocation—philosophy—                                                         the tree that, like myself,
                                                 I have read many definitions of what is
which knows that all men, by what                                                             braves the winter wind?
                                                 a conservationist, and written not a few
they think about and wish for, in effect                                                      The pine will shelter a
                                                 myself, but I suspect that the best one is
wield all tools. It knows that men thus                                                       grouse but the birch will
                                                 written not with a pen, but with an axe.
determine, by their manner of thinking                                                        feed him; do I consider
                                                 It is a matter of what a man thinks about
and wishing, whether it is worth it to                                                        bed more important
                                                 while chopping, or while deciding what
wield any.                                                                                    than board? The pine
                                                 to chop. A conservationist is one who
November is, for many reasons, the               is humbly aware that with each stroke        will ultimately bring ten
month for the axe. It is warm enough to          he is writing his signature on the face      dollars a thousand, the
grind an axe without freezing, but cold          of his land. Signatures of course differ,    birch two dollars; have I
enough to fell a tree in comfort. The            whether written with axe or pen, and this    an eye on the bank? All
leaves are off the hardwoods, so that one        is as it should be.                          of these possible reasons
                                                                                              for my bias seem to carry

The Plants of Axe-In-Hand                                                                   because deer, rabbits, and mice are so       to blossom forth annually as a successful
                                                                                            avid to eat his square twigs and green       seer and prophet.
In this essay, Leopold mentions numerous plants for or against which he holds a bias.
                                                                                            bark and partly because his cerise berries
Today, many people do not recognize the plants around them—a Worldwatch study                                                            It is evident that our plant biases are in
                                                                                            glow so warmly against November snow.
has found that Americans can recognize 1,000 corporate logos, but fewer than 10                                                          part traditional. If your grandfather liked
                                                                                            I like the red dogwood because he feeds
plants or animals native to their region. Do you know these plants?                                                                      hickory nuts, you will like the hickory
                                                                                                                                         tree because your father told you to. If,
                     White Pine (Pinus                             Bittersweet              Our biases are indeed                        on the other hand, your grandfather
                     strobus) White pine                           (Hamamelis
                     has thick, gray bark                          virginiana)              a sensitive index to                         burned a log carrying a poison ivy vine
                                                                                                                                         and recklessly stood in the smoke, you
                     and clusters of 5                             Bittersweet is a
                     needles at the ends                           climbing woody           our affections, our                          will dislike the species, no matter with
of its branches. It has a feathery look.     vine which can be identified in the fall                                                    what crimson glories it warms your eyes
                                             by it’s bright red berries in yellow bracts.
                                                                                            tastes, our loyalties,                       each fall.
                    Red Birch (Betula
                    nigra) Also called                            Hickory (Carya            our generosities,                            It is also evident that our plant biases
                    River birch or Black                          ovata) Shagbark                                                        reflect not only vocations but avocations,
                    birch, this tree has                          hickory is a large        and our manner of                            with a delicate allocation of priority
                    pinkish, flaky bark                           tree with gray,                                                        as between industry and indolence.
that can be peeled off in sheets. It often                        shaggy bark and           wasting weekends.                            The farmer who would rather hunt
grows along river banks.                                          edible nuts.                                                           grouse than milk cows will not dislike
                                                                                            October robins, and the prickly ash          hawthorn, no matter if it does invade his
                  Wahoo (Euonymus                               Poison Ivy                  because my woodcock take their daily
                                                                                                                                         pasture. The coon-hunter will not dislike
                  atropurpurea) Also                            (Toxicodendron              sunbath under the shelter of his thorns. I
                                                                                                                                         basswood, and I know of quail hunters
                  called Burning                                radicans) Stay              like the hazel because his October purple
                                                                                                                                         who bear no grudge against ragweed,
                  bush, this shrub has                          away from this              feeds my eye, and because his November
                  bright red berries                                                        catkins feed my deer and grouse. I like      despite their annual bout with hayfever.
                                                                one! Poison ivy
surrounded by pink bracts in the fall.                                                      the bittersweet because my father did,       Our biases are indeed a sensitive index
                                                                has groups of three
                                                                glossy leaves and           and because the deer, on the 1st of July     to our affections, our tastes, our loyalties,
                     Red Dogwood                                                            of each year, begin suddenly to eat the      our generosities, and our manner of
                                             many people get an itchy rash from
                     (Cornus stolonifera)                                                   new leaves, and I have learned to predict    wasting weekends.
                                             touching it.
                     Also called Red osier                                                  this event to my guests. I cannot dislike
                     dogwood, this shrub                        Hawthorn                                                                 Be that as it may, I am content to waste
                                                                                            a plant that enables me, a mere professor,   mine, in November, with axe in hand.
                     is readily identified                      (Crataegus spp.)
                     by its bright red                          Hawthorn is a
branches. It grows in clones, spreading                         small, spreading
through its roots, and tends to take over                       tree with thorny
                                             branches and plentiful white flowers.
                                                                                               Questions for Discussion
in wetter areas.
                                                                Basswood (Tilia                • Leopold states that pines are his favorite trees. Do you have a favorite kind
                     Prickly Ash
                                                                americana)                       of tree? What is it about that particular species that you like? Does liking it
                                                                Basswood is a native             make you want to think of ways that you could favor its growth?
                     americanum) As
                     its name suggests,                         tree with broad,               • How has the land where you live changed within your lifetime? Are there
                     Prickly ash is a tall                      heart-shaped leaves              decisions you have made that have become your “signatures” on the land?
shrub with light gray branches lined         and light brown, smooth bark.                     • Leopold writes there are many definitions of a conservationist; his own
with thorns.                                                       Ragweed (Ambrosia             definition is one who is thinking “while chopping, or deciding what to chop.”
                      Hazel (Corylus                               artemisiifolia)               Can you relate to this idea? How would you define a conservationist?
                      americana)                                   Ragweed is an               • Leopold writes, “Signatures or course differ...and this is how it should be.”
                      American hazelnut                            herbaceous plant              Can you think of examples where people have made very different decisions,
                      is a shrub that                              with lacy-looking             both wanting to do what is right for the health of the land?
                      produces edible        leaves. Its pollen triggers summer
nuts. In fall its leaves turn deep pink.     allergies in many people.

                 —— Marshland Elegy ——                                                       habitat where the oncoming host again
                                                                                             may live and breed and die.

      dawn wind stirs on the great marsh. With almost imperceptible slowness it              To what end? Out on the bog a crane,
      rolls a bank of fog across the wide morass. Like the white ghost of a glacier the      gulping some luckless frog, springs his
      mists advance, riding over phalanxes of tamarack, sliding across bog-meadows           ungainly hulk into the air and flails
heavy with dew. A single silence hangs from horizon to horizon.                              the morning sun with mighty wings.
                                                                                             The tamaracks re-echo with his bugled
                                                                                             certitude. He seems to know.

                                                                                                             * * *
                                                                                             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.
                                                                                             This much, though, can be said: our         Understanding Crane
                                                                                             appreciation of the crane grows with the
                                                                                             slow unraveling of earthly history. His     Migration
                                                                                             tribe, we now know, stems out of the
                                                                                                                                         • Nina Leopold Bradley has been
                                                                                             remote Eocene. The other members
                                                                                                                                           keeping three phenological entries
         Key Concept: Impacts                                                                of the fauna in which he originated
                                                                                                                                           on sandhill cranes since 1974.
         Leopold’s sobering message asks us to consider how we can protect                   are long since entombed within the
                                                                                                                                           She has found that they typically
         and cherish something at the same time. He warns that beyond the                    hills. When we hear his call we hear no
                                                                                                                                           arrive in Wisconsin around
         impacts we make when we degrade land in multiple ways, the act of                   mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the
                                                                                                                                           March 5, she sees the first young
         admiring nature can have impacts of its own.                                        orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol
                                                                                                                                           cranes close to May 7, and the
                                                                                             of our untamable past, of that incredible
                                                                                                                                           last cranes head to their wintering
                                                                                             sweep of millennia which underlies and
                                                                                                                                           grounds on about November 18
Out of some far recess of the sky a tinkling of little bells falls soft upon the listening   conditions the daily affairs of birds and
                                                                                                                                           each year.
land. Then again silence. Now comes a baying of some sweet-throated hound, soon              men.
the clamor of a responding pack. Then a far clear blast of hunting horns, out of the                                                     • By November, the chicks born
                                                                                             And so they live and have their being—
sky into the fog.                                                                                                                          in May are ready to fly south on
                                                                                             these cranes—not in the constricted
                                                                                                                                           their own. Wisconsin’s cranes
High horns, low horns, silence, and finally a pandemonium of trumpets, rattles,              present, but in the wider reaches of
                                                                                                                                           go to Florida for the winter, but
croaks, and cries that almost shakes the bog with its nearness, but without yet              evolutionary time. Their annual return is
                                                                                                                                           sandhill cranes in the western
disclosing whence it comes. At last a glint of sun reveals the approach of a great           the ticking of the geologic clock. Upon
                                                                                                                                           flyway spend the winter in New
echelon of birds. On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a             the place of their return they confer a
                                                                                                                                           Mexico and Arizona, and some
final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous descending spirals to their feeding grounds.      peculiar distinction. Amid the endless
                                                                                                                                           travel as far as Mexico.
A new day has begun on the crane marsh.                                                      mediocrity of the commonplace, a crane
                                                                                             marsh holds a paleontological patent of     • The biggest threat to sandhills
                                       * * *                                                 nobility, won in the march of aeons, and      is loss of suitable wetland and
A sense of time lies thick and heavy on such a place. Yearly since the ice age it has        revocable only by shotgun. The sadness        riparian areas to use as stopovers
awakened each spring to the clangor of cranes. The peat layers that comprise the             discernible in some marshes arises,           during their migration. Eighty
bog are laid down in the basin of an ancient lake. The cranes stand, as it were, upon        perhaps, from their once having harbored      percent of all sandhills migrate
the sodden pages of their own history. These peats are the compressed remains of             cranes. Now they stand humbled, adrift        through the Platte River in
the mosses that clogged the pools, of the tamaracks that spread over the moss, of the        in history.                                   Nebraska, and development along
cranes that bugled over the tamaracks since the retreat of the ice sheet. An endless                                                       the river puts pressure on cranes.
caravan of generations has built of its own bones this bridge into the future, this                          *   *   *

Thus always does history, whether
of marsh or market place, end in
                                                                                                 —— Thinking Like a Mountain ——
paradox. The ultimate value in
these marshes is wildness, and the
crane is wildness incarnate. But                                                                  Key Concept: Humility
all conservation of wildness is self-
                                                                                                  Leopold’s own misdeeds lead him to be very concerned about the
defeating, for to cherish we must
                                                                                                  impacts of those with good intentions, but incomplete information.
see and fondle, and when enough
                                                                                                  According to Leopold, blind pursuit of “success” or as he describes it
have seen and fondled, there is no
                                                                                                  “paradise” needs to be viewed cautiously.
wilderness left to cherish.

                 * * *
Some day, perhaps in the very process                                                                                                                        deep chesty bawl
of our benefactions, perhaps in the                                                                                                                          echoes from rimrock
fullness of geologic time, the last                                                                                                                          to rimrock, rolls
crane will trumpet his farewell and                                                                                                                  down the mountain, and
spiral skyward from the great marsh.                                                                                                                 fades into the far blackness
High out of the clouds will fall the                                                                                                                 of the night. It is an
sound of hunting horns, the baying                                                                                                                   outburst of wild defiant
of the phantom pack, the tinkle of                                                                                                                   sorrow, and of contempt
little bells, and then a silence never to                                                                                                            for all the adversities of the
be broken, unless perchance in some                                                                                                                  world.
far pasture of the Milky Way.                                                                                                                     Every living thing (and
                                                                                                                                                  perhaps many a dead one as
                                                                                                                                                  well) pays heed to that call.
     Questions for Discussion                                                                                                                     To the deer it is a reminder
                                                                                                                                                  of the way of all flesh, to the
     • Leopold uses very evocative and descriptive language like “silence” giving        pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a
       way to “pandemonium” of “trumpets, rattles, croaks, and cries” to describe a      promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the
       new day on the crane marsh. Have you ever seen or heard cranes? Can you           hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate
       tell the difference between cranes, geese, herons, and swans?                     hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only
     • “A sense of time lies thick and heavy on such a place,” writes Leopold. Have      the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.
       you ever had an experience where time seems to stand still, or where you          Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it
       experience something that you can imagine having happened time and                is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles
       again over the course of history?                                                 in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even
     • In art appreciation, your understanding and knowledge increases as you            without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight
       learn more about the techniques and mediums used by impressionist painters        whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way
       or sculptures. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful that you weren’t          shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence
       able to describe it adequately with words? Can the process of appreciating        or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.
       nature be compared to appreciating art? Do you agree that if you know             My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating
       more about something it becomes even more beautiful?                              lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We
     • Leopold describes the unfortunate paradox in wanting and needing to               saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water.
       “fondle” things in order to better understand them with the reality that this     When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error:
       handling, in particular with natural things, can often lead to its destruction.   it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows
       Have you ever picked a beautiful flower only to see it quickly wilt? Can you      and all joined in a welcoming mêlée of wagging tails and playful maulings. What
       think of ways that could people can appreciate and understand parts of the        was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the
       natural world without unintentionally destroying them?                            foot of our rimrock.
                                                                                         In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second

 Leopold’s Changing Ideas
                                                                                          We all strive for safety, prosperity, long life,
 on Predators                                                                             and dullness.
 The way Leopold thought about the
 role of predators on the landscape                                                       of its own too-much, bleach with the                          * * *
 changed 180 degrees over the                                                             bones of the dead sage, or molder under       We all strive for safety, prosperity,
 course of his career. Looking back                                                       the high-lined junipers.                      comfort, long life, and dullness. The
 at his writing, we can see that shift                                                    I now suspect that just as a deer herd        deer strives with his supple legs, the
 occurring:                                                                               lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does   cowman with trap and poison, the
                                                                                          a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.   statesman with pen, the most of us with
 1919                                                                                     And perhaps with better cause, for while      machines, votes, and dollars, but it all
 “The advisability of controlling                                                         a buck pulled down by wolves can be           comes to the same thing: peace in our
 vermin is plain common sense, which                                                      replaced in two or three years, a range       time. A measure of success in this is all
 nobody will seriously question.”                                                         pulled down by too many deer may fail         well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to
                                            we were pumping lead into the pack, but       of replacement in as many decades.            objective thinking, but too much safety
 1920                                       with more excitement than accuracy:
                                                                                          So also with cows. The cowman who             seems to yield only danger in the long
 “It is going to take patience and          how to aim a steep downhill shot is                                                         run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s
                                            always confusing. When our rifles were        cleans his range of wolves does not realize
 money to catch the last wolf or lion in                                                                                                dictum: in wildness is the salvation of
                                            empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup       that he is taking over the wolf ’s job of
 New Mexico. But the last one must                                                                                                      the world. Perhaps this is the hidden
 be caught before the job can be called     was dragging a leg into impassable slide-     trimming the herd to fit the range. He
 fully successful.”                         rocks.                                        has not learned to think like a mountain.     meaning in the howl of the wolf, long
                                            We reached the old wolf in time to watch      Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers           known among mountains, but seldom
 1930                                       a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I      washing the future into the sea.              perceived among men.
 “No predatory species should               realized then, and have known ever since,
 be subjected to control. ...Rare           that there was something new to me in
 predatory species, or species of           those eyes, something known only to her          Questions for Discussion
 narrow distribution and exceptional        and to the mountain. I was young then,           • Politicians are often criticized, called “flip floppers,” for changing their
 biological interest or aesthetic value     and full of trigger-itch; I thought that           minds or positions on issues. However, it is critical for scientists to be able
 should not be subjected to control.”       because fewer wolves meant more deer,              to do just this, sometimes referred to as a “paradigm shift.” Can you think
                                            that no wolves would mean hunters’                 about a time when you learned more about a subject and that your earlier
 1934                                       paradise. But after seeing the green fire          assumptions were incorrect you were able to consciously change your mind
                                            die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the        about something?
 “[In Germany] the culling function         mountain agreed with such a view.
 of predators seems to be universally                                                        • This essay identifies many different perspectives, that of the wolf, the hunter,
 recognized as a biotic necessity. Will     Since then I have lived to see state after         the rancher, and ultimately the mountain. Leopold is challenging the reader
 this happy day come to America             state extirpate its wolves. I have watched         to read landscape from the mountain’s perspective. What does that mean
 before, or after, our magnificent          the face of many a newly wolfless                  to you?
 predators are gone?”                       mountain, and seen the south-facing
                                            slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer           • Leopold describes the power of seeing the “green fire” die in the wolf ’s eye,
                                            trails. I have seen every edible bush              but he didn’t understand until many years later why his actions felt wrong.
 1939                                                                                          Have you ever done something you thought was right, but regretted it later?
                                            and seedling browsed, first to anaemic
 “The fight over predator control is no     desuetude, and then to death. I have               What made you realize you were mistaken?
 mere conflict of interest between field-   seen every edible tree defoliated to the         • At the end of the essay Leopold seems to be asking if complacency, or
 glass hunters and gun-hunters. It is       height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain            “safety,” will ultimately result in danger and that “wildness” is a type of
 a fight between those who see utility      looks as if someone had given God a new            reminder that people cannot, or perhaps even should not, try to control
 and beauty in the biota as a whole,        pruning shears, and forbidden Him all              everything. Do you agree?
 and those who see utility and beauty       other exercise. In the end the starved
 only in pheasants and trout.”              bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead

                      —— The Outlook ——
         Key Concept: Ethics
         Ethics provide context for our individual actions relative to larger
         social values. Leopold understood that ultimately the health of
         land, and in turn human health, would be determined by people’s
         values. A Sand County Almanac ends with Leopold’s challenge
         to individuals and communities to join in the “intellectual and
         emotional” evolution of a land ethic.

    t is inconceivable                                              substitutes      for
    to me that an                                                   wood, leather, wool,
    ethical relation                                                and other natural
to land can exist                                                   land products suit
without love, respect,                                              him better than the
and admiration for                                                  originals. In short,
land, and a high                                                    land is something
regard for its value.                                               he has ‘outgrown.’
By value, I of course                                               Almost        equally
mean something far                                                  serious     as     an
broader than mere                                                   obstacle to a land
economic value; I                                                                            label, ecological training is scarce.         expedient. A thing is right when it tends
                                                                    ethic is the attitude                                                  to preserve the integrity, stability, and
mean value in the                                                   of the farmer for        The case for a land ethic would appear
philosophical sense.                                                                         hopeless but for the minority which is        beauty of the biotic community. It is
                                                                    whom the land is                                                       wrong when it tends otherwise.
Perhaps the most                                                    still an adversary,      in obvious revolt against these ‘modern’
serious        obstacle                                             or a taskmaster that     trends.                                       It of course goes without saying that
impeding            the                                             keeps him in slavery.                                                  economic feasibility limits the tether of
evolution of a land                                                 Theoretically, the       I have purposely                              what can or cannot be done for land. It
ethic is the fact that                                              mechanization of                                                       always has and it always will. The fallacy
our        educational                                              farming ought to cut
                                                                                             presented the land                            the economic determinists have tied
                                                                                                                                           around our collective neck, and which
and          economic
system is headed
                                                                    the farmer’s chains,
                                                                    but whether it really
                                                                                             ethic as a product of                         we now need to cast off is the belief that
                                                                                                                                           economics determines all land-use. This
away from, rather                                                   does is debatable.       social evolution because                      is simply not true. An innumerable host
than toward, an                                                      One of the requisites
intense consciousness of land. Your true       for an ecological comprehension of
                                                                                             nothing so important as                       of actions and attitudes, comprising
                                                                                                                                           perhaps the bulk of all land relations, is
modern is separated from the land by
many middlemen, and by innumerable
                                               land is an understanding of ecology,
                                               and this is by no means co-extensive
                                                                                             an ethic is ever ‘written.’                   determined by the land-users’ tastes and
physical gadgets. He has no vital relation                                                                                                 predilections, rather than by his purse.
                                               with ‘education’; in fact, much higher                                                      The bulk of all land relations hinges on
to it; to him it is the space between cities   education seems deliberately to avoid         The ‘key-log’ which must be moved to
on which crops grow. Turn him loose for                                                      release the evolutionary process for an       investments of time, forethought, skill,
                                               ecological concepts. An understanding                                                       and faith rather than on investments of
a day on the land, and if the spot does        of ecology does not necessarily originate     ethic is simply this: quit thinking about
not happen to be a golf links or a ‘scenic’                                                  decent land-use as solely an economic         cash. As a land-user thinketh, so is he.
                                               in courses bearing ecological labels; it is
area, he is bored stiff. If crops could be     quite as likely to be labeled geography,      problem. Examine each question in             I have purposely presented the land ethic
raised by hydroponics instead of farming,      botany, agronomy, history, or economics.      terms of what is ethically and esthetically   as a product of social evolution because
it would suit him very well. Synthetic         This is as it should be, but whatever the     right, as well as what is economically        nothing so important as an ethic is ever

                                                               intentions which prove
                                                               to be futile, or even
                                                               dangerous,     because
                                                               they are devoid of
                                                               critical understanding
                                                               either of the land, or
                                                               of economic land-use.
                                                               I think it is a truism
                                                               that as the ethical
                                                               frontier      advances
                                                                                             Perhaps such a shift in
                                                               from the individual
                                                               to the community, its
                                                                              content        values can be achieved
                                                                The mechanism of
‘written.’ Only the most superficial
student of history supposes that Moses
‘wrote’ the Decalogue; it evolved in the
                                             operation is the same for any ethic: social
                                             approbation for right actions: social
                                             disapproval for wrong actions.
                                                                                             by reappraising things
minds of a thinking community, and           By and large, our present problem is one
Moses wrote a tentative summary of it
for a ‘seminar.’ I say tentative because
                                             of attitudes and implements. We are
                                             remodeling the Alhambra with a steam-
                                             shovel and we are proud of our yardage.
                                                                                             unnatural, tame, and
evolution never stops.
                                             We shall hardly relinquish the shovel,
The evolution of a land ethic is an
intellectual as well as emotional process.
Conservation is paved with good
                                             which after all has many good points,
                                             but we are in need of gentler and more
                                             objective criteria for its successful use.
                                                                                           confined in terms of things
     Questions for Discussion                                                               natural, wild, and free.
     • Leopold suggests that a land ethic can never really be written, rather it
       evolves over time through society’s thinking and actions. Has your thinking
       about right and wrong ever changed?
     • The “Land Ethic” essay challenges not only individuals but also communities
       to develop a land ethic. Can you think of examples from history where our
       society has changed the way it thinks about the natural world? Do you
       think American society has the kind of land ethic like Leopold describes?
       Why or why not?
     • The land ethic described by Leopold advances through both an “intellectual
       and emotional process.” Do you rely more heavily on information or
       intuition when you make decisions?
     • A Sand County Almanac closes with an analogy of remodeling the Alhambra
       with a steam shovel and proposes the problem is one of “attitudes and
       implements.” Do you know what the Alhambra is and where it is located? If
       you were going to remodel it, which would be more important to determining
       the goals and outcomes of the project, attitudes or implements?

About the Aldo Leopold Foundation
                                                   Fostering a Land Ethic
                                                   through the legacy
                                                   of Aldo Leopold

The Aldo Leopold Foundation owns and manages the Leopold Shack and Farm,
where, in 1935, Aldo Leopold and his family undertook a revolutionary experiment
in returning health to a worn out farm. Celebrated in Leopold’s classic A Sand
County Almanac, the transformed land now supports vibrant forests, wetlands, and
prairies and draws visitors from around the world. First published in 1949, A Sand
County Almanac has sold over two million copies in ten languages.

The foundation’s headquarters in the Leopold Center, located less than a mile from
the Leopold Shack and Farm. As the primary interpreter of the Leopold legacy, the
foundation serves as the executor of Leopold’s literary estate, manages the extensive
Leopold Archives and acts as a clearinghouse for information regarding Aldo Leopold,
his work, and his ideas. Each year, thousands of visitors are inspired through tours,
seminars, and workshops in the same landscape that deeply moved Leopold.

The five children of Aldo and Estella Leopold established the Aldo Leopold Foundation
as a not-for-profit conservation organization in 1982.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation
P. O. Box 77
Baraboo, WI 53913