Brett Williams'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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it was amazing

So citified you’re solidified? Drink this.

Patient observation of nature now lost in our rush for work can be recovered, if only in a book. Though as Leopold writes, “There will always be [passenger] pigeons in books… But book-pigeons cannot dive out of a cloud… or clap their wings in thunderous applause of mast-laden woods… They know no urge of seasons, feel no kiss of the sun, no lash of wind and weather. They live forever by not living at all.” Not only is the writing lovely, but Leopold shows those of us living in a perpetual present that every wild thing - no matter how small - has a history. That history is literally in the wild things that tell it, paved over like ancient treasures burned in Alexandria’s library. Once gone, easily forgotten. Sometimes his history is poetic. When writing about cutting down a tree felled by lightning we also see the historian and the scientist’s understanding of nature behind the art form. He takes us through the tree’s rings as he saws it, each ring witness to another bit of history. “It is a warming thought that this [tree survived], and thus to garner eighty years of June sun,” he writes. “It is this sunlight that is now being released, through the intervention of my axe and saw, to warm my shack and spirit though eighty gusts of blizzards. And with each gust a wisp of smoke from my chimney bears witness, to whomever it may concern, that the sun did not shine in vain.” With a bit of the true (spiritual) naturalist he writes, “The mouse is a sober citizen who knows that grass grows in order that mice may store it as underground haystacks, and that snow falls in order that mice may build subways from stack to stack. The rough-legged hawk has no opinion why grass grows, but he is well aware that snow melts in order that hawks may again catch mice.”

The continued demise of Wisconsin (and by analogy the planet) is a periodic refrain between pleasuring insights. Not far beneath these warnings of policy errors, legislators that are mere shills for a dollar, and “progress,” can be heard the reason wilderness will be swallowed, digested and excreted as a mall, golf course or factory floor of an agri-planet – because humans no longer have exposure to wilderness, and as such, for most, couldn’t care less. As Leopold notes, we are confronted by two questions, “Either insure the continued blindness of the populace, or examine the question whether we cannot have both progress and plants.” When GDP and jobs, job, jobs of 7 (soon to be 10) billion eating humans is a reality, the answer to that question seems a forgone conclusion. Originally from Iowa, one wonders without too much effort what Leopold would think of his birth state now? The most modified state in the Western hemisphere, 94% farmland, 1% city.

Warning vegetarian animal lovers: Leopold writes on rare occasion about hunting and fishing, and just as often about its recklessness, in an attempt to separate harvest from savage. But he does provide a confession that changed his life, in which he and others saw a mother wolf and it pups tumbling at play in an open space downhill. “In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf,” he writes. “In a second we were pumping lead into the pack… When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks. We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes… I was young and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise.” Instead he found the opposite, just as others have found when humans exterminate top predators everywhere we go. No wolves meant overpopulation of deer, eventuating in death of the forest from over-grazing, resulting in starvation of the deer themselves. It’s a shame the only “intelligent” species on earth must exercise its power before realizing how destructive we are (including this reader at a similar age). Fortunately a few, like Leopold, learn this lesson and change their ways.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 15, 2014 – Shelved

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