Saturday, February 11, 2012

#6 A Sand County Almanac

A Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round RiverA Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River by Aldo Leopold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.

So Aldo Leopold begins the forward to his most famous book: A Sand County Almanac. To be clear, this book is not a traditional almanac in any sense. Here Leopold has recorded his thoughts under headings corresponding to each of the months of the year. Hence, it is only an almanac in a figurative sense. Something else that may cause confusion: There is not only one "Sand County". The title refers to one of several of the sand counties of Wisconsin.

A Sand County Almanac is regarded as a classic of literature in its own right as well as a cornerstone of the conservation movement.

I found Leopold's writing to be very straight-forward, simple and down-to-earth. At the same time the text is full of the joy and spiritual sustenance that nature contains for those who cannot live without wild things.

A Sand County Almanac gives a picture of environmentalism as I see it. Namely it is an environmentalism not primarily concerned with the economic and public health impacts of environmental degradation (though those are important concerns). Leopold's environmentalism recognizes the intrinsic worth of the biotic community, and it's power to uplift the human spirit.

Leopold recognizes that protection of the land cannot and should not be left entirely to the government (though governmental protections definitely have their place). Protection of the natural world must take place on a grassroots level to be effective and permanent. The problem (which Leopold saw in his time and which has not changed) is that the citizens and land owners have consistently failed to take even the easiest and most basic steps toward conservation. Forests are seen by the masses not as sacred places but as dumping grounds for trash. Yards are not seen as opportunities for harboring wildlife, but as sterile lawns with the beauties and complexities of nature manicured out of them. Thus, would-be land owners reduce themselves to nothing more than lawn owners.

The lack of a conservation spirit among the citizenry stems from two things I think: apathy and ignorance. Maybe they are really the same thing, or at least closely related. Leopold extols the virtues of some rarely valued plants: silphium and draba, for example. But how can you recognize the value of these quiet little plants if you can't even recognize them at all.

There is, of course, room for optimism. Nature will go on with or without our consent. Each of us has ample opportunity to derive from the elements of nature around us those things that our spirits need.

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