, Salem, MA


March 2, 2013

We should all celebrate Aldo Leopold

Maybe nothing much is going on right now in your hometown, but that’s not the case in Batesland, S.D. (population 108), and in the Wisconsin towns of La Crosse, Fond du Lac and New London. They’re all marking Aldo Leopold Weekend, and we should, too.

Aldo Leopold Weekend — officially so designated in Wisconsin but informally marked elsewhere — comes only once a year, and it is a time for reflection and action, all in honor of one of the poets laureate of the conservation movement, a man much forgotten by the general public but much revered among those who believe, as he did, that there are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm — that you might think breakfast comes from the store and that you might believe heat comes from the furnace.

Pick up your copy of his classic “A Sand County Almanac” — all libraries have one, several schools do, and those who love nature writing own at least one volume — and pause for a moment on his foreword, written precisely 65 years ago Monday. There is more wisdom in those 13 paragraphs than in a dozen 300-page works that have won the National Book Award. Pause for a moment on the second paragraph:

Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher “standard of living” is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free.

Leopold’s book is a meditation on wild things and on the cost of civilization. Long before the word “ecology” moved from the natural-history and zoology faculty in the late 19th century to the front pages of newspapers in the late 1960s, this U.S. Forest Service supervisor, University of Wisconsin professor of game management and long-selling author (2 million copies in print) preached the precepts and values of this discipline, which he viewed in moral as much as in scientific terms:

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