Book Review: A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 5/5

While almanacs may not be the first choice for fantasy or fiction readers, it is an important book for nature lovers. I encourage anyone who loves animals, whether they prefer fiction or biographies, to check this book out.

This book is a collection of essays by Aldo Leopold (1887 - 1949), considered to be ‘the father of wildlife ecology’ in the United States. The study of relationships between species and their environment is a relatively new field. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1900’s that American’s started to give real attention to its wildlife, and the problems it faced. This new awareness was partially thanks to the writing of Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carlson, John James Audubon, and others. Because of his attention to problems most people at the time overlooked, Leopold’s thinking can be described as ‘ahead of his time’.

The 280 pages of essays are organized into 4 parts. The first, Leopold writes about the world beyond the front door of his little Wisconsin farm. He artistically describes the signs of late winter and early spring. When he spots the trail of a skunk, he ponders what the creature is searching for. Of all the signs of spring, he notes that the most reliable is the return of the geese and their ‘goose music’, because birds that have to travel thousands of miles to eat and nest are going to be punctual. He notes the annual floods, and the joys of hunting and fishing with his dog. You can tell the deep appreciation he has for nature within his words, and the lingering worry of changes to come as more people invade the wilderness.

Next part, Leopold takes readers with him to a journey across the United States. He stares at repeating farm fields from his bus, thinking about the diverse prairie grasses that are no more. His descriptions of nutrient cycles and microbial life are not only surprisingly accurate, but fun and easy for readers to follow. He also thinks about travel. The parts of the country originally reserved by the most skilled horsemen were now available to anyone on a plane. One of my favorite essays, Thinking Like a Mountain, is in this section. Leopold writes about what humans consider good versus what nature considers good, particularly when it comes to predators like wolves and grizzlies. At this time, the wolf population in the lower 48 states was hunted, poisoned, and trapped out of existence. Leopold also describes a hunting trip to the Colorado River Delta. He described it as a lush tropical jungle, spotting beautiful birds and signs of an infamous leopard. Leopold vowed never to return to that place for fear of how it was changed. I’m afraid his fears were justified.

Read more about the plight of the Colorado Delta here.

Part three is dedicated to how we perceive and interact with nature. Leopold argues that present day hunters and fisherman are too heavily reliant on technology that makes killing easier and quicker. He emphasis the importance in leisure time and hobbies, such as falconry, or making bows. The final section focuses on the conservation ethic. How we perceive the land affects how we conserve it. Leopold has faith humans will naturally hold all the land at equal importance with our most charismatic animals, but it has not happened yet. He believes people are too reliant on the government to do the work of conservation, and that private landowners are not doing enough. He also argues that what is taught about biology in schools is outdated and pointless (which I highly agree with). Students can name a mitochondria but can’t understand the importance of conservation? Only a few students will ever become microbiologists. Everyone will interact with the lands in some way. Conservation must begin with a complete renovation of how we think about nature. As he says, "Recreational development is not a job of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity in the still unlovely human mind" (Leopold, 295).

Leopold passed away while A Sand County Almanac was in draft form, later published by his son. His beautifully and thoughtfully written essays made this book a joy to read, and I thank my professor for making this a requirement. I am inspired to look at more novels like this. Leopold may have got the credit for bringing people’s attention to ecology, but I would like to look at others who wrote about it. Wildlife management may have been new to the descendants of European colonizers, but what we have learned was already known and practiced by groups like the Mongolians. Native Tribes lived on the continued for thousands of years, and when colonizers arrived, wild populations were vast and abundant. I'm excited to learn more about the various ways people studied and interacted with their environment, and I'll be sure you keep readers posted!

To learn more about the life and teachings of Aldo Leopold, visit this website.

Ha det bra!

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