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.

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