A Sand County almanac, and sketches here and there

by Aldo Leopold

Paperback, 1949

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Oxford University Press, 1989, c1949.

Description

First published in 1949 and praised in The New York Times Book Review as a trenchant book, full of vigor and bite, A Sand County Almanac combines some of the finest nature writing since Thoreau with an outspoken and highly ethical regard for America's relationship to the land.As the forerunner to such important books as Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and Robert Finch's The Primal Place, this classic work remains as relevant today as it was nearly sixty years ago.

User reviews

LibraryThing member blake.rosser
"Timeless" is an understatement. Around page 40 I decided that this was one of my favorite books ever. It was the passage on the geese I think, when he was speculating on their behavior and basically gave it up as something unknowable to mere humans. Everything I read was so beautiful and poetic, and it all conveyed such a love for nature and the land that it was really quite breathtaking. It is the closest thing to poetry that I've ever seen in non-fiction -- I would even go so far as to call it poetry of a sort.

And apart from Leopold's disarming style, the sheer scope of his natural knowledge is quite simply incredible. Leopold doesn't have to specifically elucidate his love for nature, because the fact that he knows the names of all the birds, flowers and trees (among other things) proves implicitly his adulation. Only thousands (millions?) of man-hours spent joyously and patiently outdoors could account for such a proficiency.

The 2nd and 3rd sections of the book do not ultimately sustain the magnificense of the titular "Sand County Alamanac," but it's hard to fault a book too much for not maintaining a state of perfect splendour. Both latter sections are still well worth reading. One of my favorite qualities of the first part is that it is entirely apolitical. Leopold doesn't have to come out directly and scold us for our misuse and destruction of the enviroment, because his simple devotion is by far the more effective chastisement. The 2nd and 3rd parts do become more explicitly critical of modern civilization, but it's never over the top. Indeed, it provides the reader with an entirely new way to appreciate his writing: as ideas decades ahead of their time. The fact that he was writing about the desperate need for conservation in the 30s and 40s is astounding. Leopold makes "youngsters" like Edward Abbey look like a hack. He is my hero.
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LibraryThing member stretch
When was the last time you saw a natural forest, prairie, marsh, or waterway untouched by humans? Instead, we see concrete, roads, buildings, and the infrastructure of our modern world. As a society, our idea of nature comes from parks intermediately dispersed throughout an urban jungle. Even in the most rural parts of the country, the landscape has been altered to fit human needs with fences, plowed fields, and forests cleared for more agricultural land. We have removed ourselves from nature and forgotten what it really is. The consequences that stem from the degradation of the environment are remote and foreign. As long as the repercussions are not happening in our backyard, they do not exist and are not factors in our decision-making. We don’t think about how an SUV’s emissions might influence the climate; instead, we worry about the amount we’ll pay at the pump. Aldo Leopold set out to change that mindset with his work on A Sand County Almanac more than fifty years ago. Leopold’s idea that we need to be good stewards of the environment has had a profound influence on the modern restoration movement, but it is an important component in the push for more sustainable economies, and wilderness preservation as well.

A major obstacle to restoration efforts is changing people’s perception of how they should relate to nature. For the average person nature exists to satisfy their needs, whether that means using it for development, recreation, or simply ownership. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, humans have asserted a dominant role over nature, insisting that we can somehow control and change nature to suit our purposes. Rather than approaching nature with a sense of community of which humans are a part, we have long had an attitude of entitlement and ownership. Leopold proposes a major shift in paradigm by suggesting that we make an addition to our ethical framework that he calls a land ethic. He argues that we must enlarge the boundary of what we consider community to include the soil, water, plants and animals, in other words nature. Adopting the land ethic would change our human centered world-view to incorporate the natural world, thus shifting humans’ from the conquerors of the community to integral members of it.

). Leopold condemns the economic valuation of nature, therefore denouncing the current practice of sustainable development. Placing an economic value on something determines our relationship to it. A land ethic is about being a member of the land, not being the owner, and learning how to appreciate the intrinsic value of nature. While the intrinsic value of nature is crucial to the land ethic, as a conservationist Leopold understands the need for humans to exploit nature for the necessities of life. As a result, Leopold strives to create a perfectly balanced system that can protect nature’s integrity, while simultaneously meeting societal demands for goods and services. In modern economies, the large and growing population, along with improvements in technology, has put a serious strain on that balance. These days short-term economic models and commodity based society give little thought to how crucial it is to maintain natural resources, or to the correlation between their economic decisions and environmental degradation. Let alone how we are throwing away the resources future generations will come to depend on. The current trend cannot continue forever because ecology and economics are intertwined. For economies to survive, countries need to exploit its natural resources, but economic collapse is a direct consequence of resource depletion. Our only solution is to become more sustainable. Leopold felt that by upholding the health of the land, its capacity of self-renewal and regeneration could also be maintained. In the land ethic Leopold describes a way to maintain a steady relationship between people and the environment. By getting back in touch with nature, humans will come to better understand how their actions affect the environment.

For most of the population, the natural world is an abstract notion leading to gross neglect of the environment. Instead, Leopold advocates that the human population as a whole work together with an environmental ethic to become good stewards of nature. Becoming a good steward of the environment means that we have to take restoration more seriously, institute sustainable practices into our economy, and preserve wilderness for future generations. By incorporating a land ethic into our sense of values, we have the power to re-integrate ourselves with the natural world we have long forgotten. A quote from Leopold best describes the ultimate goal of any environmental conservation effort, “we end, I think, at what might be called the standard paradox of the twentieth century: our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides. But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”

I focused here on the latter part of the book, becuase I think it had the largest impact on me, but the rest of A Sand County Almanac is well worth the read. Leopold writes with beautifully simply but passionate prose. His description of cutting a tree down, recounting its long history is simply amazing.
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LibraryThing member pansociety
Written in the 1940's, a classic by one of the first persons to write popularly on the ecological perspective. His essay on "The Land Ethic" provides the foundation for most modern environmental philosophy.
LibraryThing member sworldbridger
not bad. no 'Walden'. but I really like how he describes the relationship of everything more specifically plant life and how it has a rhythm or pattern that doesn't quite make sense chaos like life. Described the predicament early on of the pitfalls of eco tourism and conservation slippery slope and that truly to make a comprehensive land ethic you have to sacrifice to be in balance with nature.… (more)
LibraryThing member StephenBarkley
A storm blew up out of nowhere this spring while I was solo paddling the South Branch of the Muskoka river, just outside of Bracebridge. I pushed my canoe into the brush at the end of a secluded bay, and watched the storm approach. As it intensified, I pulled out this small paper-back book and read a section. That's just the sort of book it is.

Leopold's words read like poetry. You immediately realize that you're in the company of someone who loves wilderness. The cover has a quote from the San Francisco Chronicle stating that this book belongs on the shelf with Thoreau and Muir. I heartily agree—so long as Sigurd Olson's right there with them. Even better than the shelf: this book belongs in your backpack.

I had to pull my canoe out of the water, and turn it over to shelter my pack. I stood at the base of a large hemlock tree and watched the spring-time hail bounce off the scarred underbody of my 14 foot red solo canoe. A mere 15 minutes later the storm was over and I was back in the water. Leopold's words far outlasted the storm.
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
A classic of environmental writing by the "father of the land ethic", in which he spells out his vision for protection of our wild places from futher destruction.
LibraryThing member robertbruceferguson
Moving. A family favorite since the early 20th century. Nature is NOT a commodity. The land ethic is to treat nature as community. The Conservationist attitude: you can use this, and use that; but, RESTORE this, and restore that. This is the brilliance given to mankind.
LibraryThing member muirpower
This is the seminal book of popular ecological literature... Required reading. My Congressman needs to read this.
LibraryThing member selmablanche
As a native of Madison Wisconsin where Aldo Leopold's legacy is preserved I never tire of revisting this book. His uncanny perceptions were distilled from a lifetime of advocacy and proves that the best writing is in the rewriting. The U of W at Madison provided a starting place for his special gifts to blossom as it has for others I know who didn't fit in prepared boxes. It is sad that he never lived to see his greatest work in print in the US since the only publisher who found it worthwhile at the time was in England. He had moved on to help a neighbor fight a grass fire.… (more)
LibraryThing member dele2451
These brief, beautifully written essays on the natural world make it easy to see why many naturalists consider Leopold the father of the wilderness movement in America. His narrative has a lilting and somewhat whimsical feel to it, almost like the bird songs and wildlife antics he describes. The black and white drawings are a nice addition to the text as well. Sure to be a hit with anybody who enjoys reading Thoreau or other writers of this genre. Should be required reading for anybody in the earth sciences and is definitely recommended reading for everybody else, especially urban dwellers who are at a loss to understand what the attractions of camping, farming or rural life really are. Loved it.… (more)
LibraryThing member sammimag
This isn't the particular copy I have read or own but they are all very likely the same. I enjoy Leopolds descriptions of the the north. His words on nature and environment spoke to me when I was in college studying Landscape Architectire and they still speak to me now.
LibraryThing member cfk
I first read this book perhaps 15 years ago and found it just as delightful today as the first time. Aldo Leopold was a conservationist and environmentalist long before it became the in thing to do and be. I have found many naturalists to be less than enthralling as authors, but Leopold knows his stuff and he knows how to present it. His book is informative and poetic:

"These things I ponder as the kettle sings, and the good oak burns to red coals on white ashes. Those ashes, come spring, I will return to the orchard at the foot of the sandhill. They will come back to me again, perhaps as red apples, or perhaps as a spirit of enterprise in some fat October squirrel, who, for reasons unknown to himself, is bent on planting acorns."
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LibraryThing member bell7
A series of essays in this posthumous collection takes you through a year in the 1940s at Aldo Leopold's farm in Wisconsin, followed by an essay on "The Land Ethic" exploring making conservation part of our social, rather than economical, consciousness.

Leopold's style has much in common with Henry David Thoreau, and it could also be argued that his ideas about conservation, forestry, and being close to the land are a natural outgrowth of much of Thoreau's ethic as well. I think I would've liked it better if I could dip into and out of it at the right times of the year - as it is, in fact, organized from January to December with one to three essays on each month - instead of rushing for a library due date. Too many essays in a row and it got a little run together and harder to focus. The particular edition I had was a 50th anniversary edition with oversize pages and lovely photographs of the farm where Aldo lived.… (more)
LibraryThing member TheGreyCrane
This book should be given to every person seeking publc office as a blue print of how to treat the planet we all live on
LibraryThing member MrsLee
Loved this. A very calming and well written story. The illustrations are superb. Sadly, I loaned out my hardback copy and never got it back.
LibraryThing member thatotter
Slow, thoughtful book of nature writing, with some wonderfully-detailed observations about the animals and plants Leopold sees on his farm in Wisconsin. The writing is good, but has a bit of an archaic feel. His love for and knowledge of the natural world really shines through.
LibraryThing member JVioland
Considered one of the fundamental works in environmental awareness, this book should be read as an alarm - To Those In The 1940s! We have transgressed so many natural laws by now, that the read becomes depressing. If only we had pursued a different path in development that hadn't led to the domination of anything-for-profit mentality, our planet would be far healthier. No, I'm not a Eco-freak. I'm a conservative who believes Capitalism works, but it must be enlightened, not like today's excuse for hyper-wealth status quo.… (more)
LibraryThing member tgsalter
happiness in your own backyard or your own weekend farm. seasonal essays, keenly observed.
LibraryThing member banjo123
This is a classic book about environmentalism. It was interesting for me to read at the same time as "Rightful Heritage" by Douglas Brinkley, since Leopold was a character in the FDR administration, and often (rightfully) critical of some of the administrations conservation policies. I suspect that this book would not be as interesting to read without historical context; he is a good writer, but not a great writer, and his prose sometimes has a bit of a self-important feel to it. But he is a detailed observer of the natural world, and an important figure in the environmental movement, so I am glad that I read this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member mojomomma
Leopold's adventures in mid-twentieth century Wisconsin observing life on his farm and in the larger U.S. environment.
LibraryThing member willszal
"A Sand County Almanac" is an amazing in many ways. Written in the 1940s and published posthumously in 1949, Leopold’s writing predate the mainstream environmentalist movement of the sixties and seventies by well over a decade.

To modern readers, it may feel slow moving, a culturally unfamiliar; Leopold represents a dual character of both hunter and environmentalist, two camps often dived by a political gulf today.

As you might have heard Wes Jackson say, Leopold’s legacy was his “land ethic.” The concept that the earth might have rights, and that, as humans, we have an obligation to steward land, was prescient for a white American. Many of his ideas are still both radical and familiar today.
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LibraryThing member eldang
I had been meaning to read this for a while, since it's such a sacred text to the environmental community and it didn't disappoint. It's really a compilation of Leopold's essays written over some years, in three parts:

The book starts with the actual sand county Almanac, which is a set of short observational essays representing one full year in the life of the farm he and his family retreated to on weekends. This was my favourite part of the book; above all else Leopold was a wonderful observer of nature and painter of scenes. There is some editorialising in this, but it's done with a rather light touch. More than anything else, it's a call to simply pay more attention to the rhythms of nature even as technology and urbanisation make it more and more possible to ignore them.

The middle part is a serious of descriptive and reflective essays written as Leopold travelled around North America. These are rather patchy, somewhat more editorial, and overwhelmingly sad. He had a very clear vision of what had already been lost to short-sighted overdevelopment, and how much more was on the cusp of being lost, and reading it 60-odd years later is actually quite upsetting. I like to tell myself that the destruction we've visited upon our own world was largely a product of ignorance, but essays like these are reminder of how untrue that is, at least for the "new world". We've had people calling this out for at least three generations, and yet we still have to fight the notion that nothing we do has any consequences.

The book closes with a set of much more prescriptive essays, about what should be done to halt the destruction. These made good for thought, but fall short of the perfection of his descriptive work. I found myself alternately agreeing, being made to think about concepts I hadn't considered before, and being frustrated by a few shortcomings:
- Leopold's vision doesn't scale to the size of population we have today. Perhaps in 1966 it would have worked to put brakes on urbanisation, but today we can't do that without turning entire continents into sprawling exurbia. I'm not sure if this was a blind spot of his at the time, or just something that hasn't translated to today.
- At times his focus on wilderness and emptiness is too narrow, and misses bigger systemic problems, such as the consequences of urban/suburban households all driving out to their dachas or the wilderness all the time. I suppose this is another instance of "does not scale".
- Sometimes he just seems indefinsibly optimistic about human nature, arguing that most if not all of the cultural change we need can come just from persuading people to intrinsically value nature. It makes sense that he should feel this way, since doing exactly that seems to be his greatest skill, but the faddishness of environmentalism since Leopold's time shows up the weakness of such an approach.

All in all, a great read - just take the polemical part with a pinch of salt, and consider the ways our collective experience since this was written critique it.
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LibraryThing member Pferdina
Read this for a campus book discussion group. I liked Part 1 very well, Part 2 not very much, and Part 3 was only mildly interesting. The discussions were good, though.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
A Sand County Almanac (1949) is a landmark book in modern environmental literature. It is personal and cozy, reminiscent of Peter Wohlleben (Hidden Life of Trees), the kind of book that leaves you feeling a bit changed looking at the world in a new and better way. The ideas expressed, that the environment is intertwined, was first observed by Alexander von Humboldt in the early 19th century. His ideas of rewilding are becoming more popular, Monibot's book Feral (2013) can be seen as a direct heir.

It's only amazing that given everything we know so little has changed. Leopold makes a strong case for personal responsibility and ethics ie. not mandated by the government, he was a conservative vision of environmental stewardship ca 1949. However 21st century conservatives have gone so far to the right not only do they disagree with environmentalism on the face of it, they actively encourage and seek outright environmental destruction, while disparaging sane and rationale classic American books like this one.
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LibraryThing member LGCullens
I first read this in the early 1950s. One of the best books I've read in over three quarters of a century, and I've reread it numerous times over the years. Sad how we can read, and fail to grasp the simplest truths.

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