Review of a Treasure
Updated: Sep 5, 2019
A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold
Published 1949, Oxford University Press
There is no pleasure so engrossing and memorable as reading A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold.
Sand County is the home of Aldo Leopold’s farm and land reclamation effort in Wisconsin.
Aldo Leopold was a trained professional who attended the Yale School of Forestry and then taught in the University of Wisconsin where he started the Department of Wildlife Ecology.
He urged on the growing science of ecology. One of the ways he did this was to buy a farm and work it with his family to bring it back to an earlier, healthier form of landscape where many species of plant and animal found sustenance.
In the Almanac, Leopold’s seasonal observations are so specific and so lovingly described that we feel we have lived neighbor to Leopold all these years, seen and enjoyed just such things as he shows us. The truth may be that we have grown and lived in entirely different climates, sporting entirely other springs and falls. But his spring becomes ours to love, and his fall ours to taste and smell.
The written Sketches do wander here to there ,and we will love wandering with him as he moves from the river delta of the Colorado to the high mountains of Arizona and New Mexico. In this sketch of life in Illinois and Iowa, Leopold remembers one day in this way:
The sign says, ‘You are entering the Green River Soil Conservation District’. The sign is neatly painted. It stands in a creek-bottom pasture so short you could play golf on it. Near by is the graceful loop of an old dry creek bed. The new creek bed is ditched straight as a ruler; it has been ‘unclurled’ by the county engineer to hurry the run-off. On the hill in the background are contoured strip-crops; they have been ‘curled’ by the erosion engineer to retard the run-off. The water must be confused by so much advice.”
Leopold’s sense of the absurd in our habits, and the irrational in our thinking makes for entertaining and thoughtful reading, a feast of fresh observations of life in our land. We see all around us with fresh understanding because he was able to look clearly at what he saw.
Get a copy of this treasure. It was first published in 1949, but is so beloved that a commemorative edition was published by Oxford University Press in 1989 and photo editions have come out since. You will enjoy his penned illustrations as well as his writing.
Review by Rae Richen