Eco-Icons: Aldo Leopold and A Sand County Almanac

“A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind.”
-Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

My definition of great books has changed a little as I grow older. There are the delicious books that you gobble down with gusto like a piece of chocolate, and if they were the tastiest books ever you may go back and read them again and again. Or you may just remember them fondly as a once in a life time event, like the time you visited that expensive out of town restaurant. Then there are the books you savor ever so slowly, like a thick mug of hot chocolate (can you tell I love chocolate?).  So that was me. I used to judge books entirely on the yummy factor.

Now my tastes have changed. I consider multi-functional books to be pure genius, whether they are really good references or works of philosophy and fiction that just work for me, in whatever it is that they do.  Sometimes the genius of the literature is only apparent once I realize that I keep referring back to it again and again, to use in different ways. Few books hold this honor for me. A Sand County Almanac is one of those.

I originally read this book back in high school for the sole reason that it was written by Aldo Leopold, who is one of my “heroes,” so far as I have them. Aldo Leopold was an iconic forester, land manager, and professor. In my humble opinion, his life was interesting and accomplished. He was revolutionary in his day for founding the “land ethic,” which means to respect and honor the land and all of the organisms that dwell therein for the sole reason that they are alive. Instead of managing property based off of what could be harvested from the land, he managed based on land ethic, with goals to bolster a healthy and robust, well-rounded ecosystem. And he is also famous for writing this book, A Sand County Almanac, which is similar in notion to Thoreau’s Walden. Aldo has a country weekend get-away where he connects to and works with the land, and he writes his thoughts and observations about it in the book, arranged by month.

The first time I read it straight through. I found it mildly interesting but not earth-shatteringly good or thought provoking, but there was still something unidentifiable about it that made me appreciate the book right off and I considered it valuable, in un-enthralled respect. I used the book a second time in a research paper for school. The third time I read it, I skimmed through it, admiring the sketches and reading my favorite bits in detail. Now, well more than ten years after I first picked it up, I have turned to it again. I am going through A Sand County Almanac month by month. (In November, I read the passage for November. In December, I read the passage for December.) I do this because it makes me feel calm, appreciative, and meditational – almost spiritual - and I enjoy re-discovering gems like the quote I included here.

So I guess if I go back to my food analogy, this would be an “acquired” taste – the thing I am indifferent to at first, but the more I consume it, the more I realize the possibilities  and the complexities of the flavors, until it becomes a favorite. In that sense, A Sand County Almanac is my coffee and tea, or my favorite stout beer. And when life feels hectic, it gives me peace. It feels like coming home.


Governor's Energy Conference Summary and State Energy Plan

Last week I was able to attend the Governor’s Energy Conference at the Cox Center. I found this to be an informative event on various levels; aside from being a good source of information, I was also able to hear the Governor, the Secretary of Energy, and CEOs from Devon, Chesapeake, OG&E, PSO, and GE speak – among other notables. Seeing as these are some of the people shaping the policy and economy of the state, seeing their personalities interplay on stage was interesting to me. I imagined I was glimpsing futures to come as I listened to them banter and present their sides.

In addition to these, Governor Fallin and the Energy Office revealed two policy projects. The first was the commencement of an agreement between Oklahoma and Colorado to procure more CNG-fueled vehicles for state fleets. Other states are also expected to join this initiative, which is designed to trigger a top-down effect to speed up the infiltration of CNG vehicles into the market as well as the expansion of fueling infrastructure. The word around the water fountain is that, because states have the ability to order vehicles to spec directly from manufacturers, they are in a unique position to influence the production of alternative fueled vehicles.  So there’s that.

The second policy reveal was the online publication of the State Energy Plan, which covers the major arms of the energy industry in the state and aims to describe Oklahoma’s current situation and lay goals for the future direction of energy development. If you live in Oklahoma and have ears and eyes, you can probably take a guess that the plan would contain a major push towards the development and use of natural gas in every way possible… and you would be correct on that assumption. There is also a smaller push to enhance Oklahoma’s renewable energy portfolio, particularly in the wind sector, and to continue to pursue more effective use of energy efficiency.

The plan touts Oklahoma’s potential to become the country’s energy capital for a second time in upcoming decades, and the conference described how natural gas reserves have significantly increased in recent years due to advancement in cost-effective technology (from what I gleam said technology consists mostly of hydraulic fracturing techniques and equipment). The conference also featured debates over the definitions and benefits of renewable energy (I know! Really!) and whether or not wind and natural gas complement or detract from one another.

The energy plan is a very manageable length for a read; not overly long or academic yet still hefty enough to be educational and substantive. If you are interested in Oklahoma’s energy future (or even energy now) you may want to consider giving it a flip through. You can find it here. 


Veteran's Day - My Adventure in Converting Casettes to mp3s

I spent Veteran’s Day doing something veteran-related for my family that could also be loosely considered an activity in the “Use Less Stuff” category... or it would be, if I use my newfound knowledge to preserve my old music collection rather than replacing it with a new set of audio CDs. So here's my tale.

I have never been a member of any of the armed forces, but I have a large extended family with relatives in every branch of the military. Most notable to me is my paternal grandfather, who was a WWII marine. I was fortunate enough to have been close to my grandpa and granny, and one summer my Dad set me the task of recording their many stories. This was a memorable experience for me, but the point is that for the past 10-15 years I’ve had a stack of preciously guarded cassettes filled with their voices and memories. The stories span an approximate set of years from 1925 -1995, and contain all of my grandpa’s favorite war stories (among these included meeting and marrying my grandma, having his first baby, how bananas helped him enlist, and a humorous tale involving coconuts).  My grandparents are both gone now, and I don’t listen to the cassettes for fear of ruining them. Somedays I miss their turn of phrase and thick southern drawl and I think to pull the casettes out, then stop myself short. Better to miss their voice than lose the tapes!

Yesterday I finally sat down and figured out how to convert these cassettes to digital formats so I can better preserve them, enjoy them, and share them. I’m not tech savvy. This was a time consuming adventure for me.

This is how I did it.  I’m going to cut out all the steps where I was bumbling around aimlessly, futilely downloading random things, and rearrange the steps until they make sense!

1)     First, I bought this doo-hicky:  Behringer UFO202 

2)      Then I had to buy a cord that allowed me to connect said doo-hicky to my boombox, with a headphone plug on one end and red/white audio jacks on the other.
3)     Download Audacity.
4)     Download LAME for Windows.
5)     Connect cord from step 2 from the boombox headphone jack to the input plugs on doo-hicky.
6)     Connect a pair of earbuds to doo-hicky’s headphone jack.
7)     Connect doo-hicky to computer via USB.
8)     Open audacity and select under the Project tab “New Stereo Project”
9)     Press play on boombox
10) Press record on Audacity
11)  After the allotted length of time, press stop on boombox
12) Press stop on Audacity
13) To save it, do one or both of these:
14)  Click file, click Export as .WAV, select location.
15) Click File, click Export as .mp3, select location. (If this is the first time you are saving as an mp3, you have to show Audacity where LAME is saved. It should be under “C/Program Files/Lame for Audacity/lame_enc.dll  Select the file and tell it to open.)

Happy Veteran’s Day! Whether or not you believe in war or patriotism, it is always good to remember your loved ones and your history.