Often, the books we read and review are recent publications. However, there are numerous classic texts in the field of conservation and sustainability. Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, first published posthumously in 1949, is a key work in the field. I just finished the version published in 1966, which includes essays from numerous collections. Leopold, a naturalist, wrote about the intricacies of the world around him and found amazement in every turn.
At certain stretches, the book had a poetic rhythm that one rarely finds in prose. Leopold’s observations remind us of the beauty, power, and consistency of nature. At times I was struck by the sections that detail Leopold’s hunting experience, but he ties in his connection to nature in a way that makes perfect sense. He bemoans the automation of hunting and harkens back to a time where humans had to be more observant, more in tune with the flows of nature.
Leopold, a wildlife game manager by trade, warns against the “artificialization” of nature, the idea that man can recreate nature without truly considering multiple factors. His argument, coming from the field of ecology, serves as an intellectual forebear to systems thinking. In a sense, he is a systems thinker. Leopold was an ecologist, a branch of science inherently systems based. Furthermore, Leopold comes across through his writing as a keen observer of the natural world.
One of the strengths of Leopold’s writing is that it comes across as timeless. Despite having been written more than 60 years ago, many of the observations ring true. Unfortunately, reading this in isolation does not do it justice. I think to appreciate what Leopold is saying, it would be best to engage the text as part of a book group, so as to discuss the numerous ideas Leopold presents. Since the structure of the book centers on his observations and essays, much of what he has to say would benefit from reflection and interaction with the text.
Innumerable sayings and lines throughout the book provide great insight into the conservation movement’s earlier days. I have taken to posting them on occasion (and will continue to do so even though I have finished the book) on Twitter. While it is difficult to distill some of these ideas into 140 characters or less and still do Leopold a service by providing context, I have tried my best. Take a look. I’ve posted them with the hashtag ASandCountyAlmanac.