Antof9's Reviews > A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold
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Jan 06, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: 2004-read, americana
Read in July, 2004

The "Foreword" sets up the book delightfully -- "There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot. . . . For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech." Now you know what you're getting into :)

I love some of his descriptions of "recycling" -- not exactly the way it's used in 2004 USA: "The spring flood brings us more than high adventure; it brings likewise an unpredictable miscellany of floatable objects pilfered from upriver farms. An old board stranded on our meadow has, to us, twice the value of the same piece new from the lumberyard. . . . Our lumber pile, recruited entirely from the river, is thus not only a collection of personalities, but an anthology of human strivings in upriver farms and forests. The autobiography of an old board is a kind of literature not yet taught on campuses, but any riverbank farm is a library where he who hammers or saws may read at will. Come high water, there is always an accession of new books."

His respect for and delight of his dog is truly enjoyable to read. Here is one excerpt I found particularly entertaining: "My dog, by the way, thinks I have much to learn about partridges, and, being a professional naturalist, I agree. He persists in tutoring me, with the calm patience of a professor of logic, in the art of drawing deductions from an educated nose. I delight in seeing him deduce a conclusion, in the form of a point, from data that are obvious to him, but speculative to my unaided eye. Perhaps he hopes his dull pupil will one day learn to smell." :)

This is not a book of poetry, but oh, some of the writing is so beautifully poetic! A very small part of page 95: "A dawn wind stirs on the great marsh. With almost imperceptible slowness it rolls a bank of fog across the wide morass. Like the white ghost of a glacier the mists advance, riding over phalanxes of tamarack, sliding across bog-meadows heavy with dew. A single silence hangs from horizon to horizon." There's more, but I'll leave you to discover it for yourself!

My last quoted section is a fascinating condemnation of industrial landowners, making them sound mercenary. The philosophy also applies to the private landowner. It is a thought I have not much considered; a land ethic: "Industrial landowners and users, especially lumbermen and stockmen, are inclined to wail long and loudly about the extension of government ownership and regulation to land, but (with notable exceptions) they show little disposition to develop the only visible alternative: the voluntary practice of conservation on their own lands.

When the private landowner is asked to perform some unprofitable act for the good of the community, he today assents only with outstretched palm. If the act costs him cash this is fair and proper, but when it costs only forethought, open-mindedness, or time, the issue is at least debatable. The overwhelming growth of land-use subsidies in recent years must be ascribed, in large part, to the government's own agencies for conservation education: the land bureaus, the agricultural colleges, and the extension services. As far as I can detect, no ethical obligation toward land is taught in these institutions.

To sum up: a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided. It tends to ignore, and thus eventually to eliminate, many elements in the land community that lack commercial value, but that are (as far as we know) essential to its healthy functioning. It assumes, falsely, I think, that the economic parts of the biotic clock will function without the economic parts. It tends to relegate to government many functions eventually too large, too complex, or too widely dispersed to be performed by government.

An ethical obligation on the part of the private owner is the only visible remedy for these situations."

I find this book fascinating, although will admit I had a hard time getting through the last section. I've always had a respect for the land and appreciated concepts like using all parts of an animal that was hunted (rather than hunting for sport). Perhaps that can be attributed to something as simple as my love for the Little House on the Prairie books.

It's interesting to me that when I lived in the Chicago area where water was plentiful, I didn't really think much about something as simple as water conservation. Now that I live in a drought area (Colorado), I am very aware of guests leaving the water on and how dry the yard looks. It's always good to read a book like this, and if it makes one more aware of their surroundings and how to be a little more responsible with the things they have. . .well, I think this author would be pleased.

For our part on the water conservation issue? Our shower is two floors above our hot water heater, and we have to run the water quite a while before it gets warm. Rather than waste it, Unk "catches" the cold water in containers whenever we shower, and uses it on the lawn. It's not much, but it's something. And the front yard already looks better in a month of doing this :)
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Steve H Nice thoughtful review. I'm puzzled, though, why the book got only 2 stars from you.


Tony Block I, too, wonder why this masterpiece on conservation only warranted two stars...


message 3: by Antof9 (last edited Dec 02, 2013 09:24PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Antof9 I didn't actually like it :) (... and I only finished it because it was a gift from a friend)


Tony Block Fair enough.


message 5: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Hardy Maybe in this case, the star rating should encompass educational value as well as entertainment value. I too found it difficult to read at times. My mind wandered, particularly in the last chapter. But the seminal ideas put forth in engaging and pithy style will have me reading this book again to better comprehend what I find to be A most compelling argument for a reverence for a land ethic.


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