A Pilgrimage

Last week I got to visit the Aldo Leopold Foundation, outside Baraboo, Wisconsin. This is the farm where Aldo Leopold and his family lived and worked in the 1930s and 40s – the land that inspired A Sand County Almanac.

If you have no idea who or what I’m talking about, that’s okay. Leopold doesn’t seem to be particularly well-known among the general public, but ask anyone who works in a conservation-related field (at least in America) and they’ll probably know who he is. A Sand County Almanac was his book of beautifully-written essays outlining his ideas about what it means to live ethically with the land. When it was published in the 1940s, shortly after his death, it didn’t find much of an audience, but when the environmental movement really got going in the 60s people rediscovered it. It’s a great, classic piece of environmental writing.

Oak trees at the end of the driveway at the farm. When the Leopolds moved here this was a tired, over-farmed piece of land with few trees, but they planted thousands of pines and other trees every year. For old photos of the property check out the archive on the Leopold Foundation’s website.
The tiny shack, originally a chicken coop, where the family lived.
The second restored prairie in the world. (The first one was also done by Leopold, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.)

Having read A Sand County Almanac not once but twice back in college, it was amazing to see Leopold’s sandy farm in person. I need to read it again now! I would highly recommend checking out the book. The opening piece, about going for a walk in the woods in January, is one of my favorite-ever pieces of nature writing, but if you’re only going to read one of the essays, go straight to “The Land Ethic.”

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5 thoughts on “A Pilgrimage”

  1. So cool to see these pictures. Leopold’s Almanac is full of little gems for brief readings. A definite nightstand book.

    “An atom at large in the biota is too free to know freedom; an atom back in the sea has forgotten it. For every atom lost to the sea, the prairie pulls another out of the decaying rocks. The only certain truth is that its creatures must suck hard, live fast, and die often, lest its losses exceed its gains.” (from Part II, Wisconsin)

  2. I’ve read quite a bit of North American “nature writing”, including Leopold. There’s so much darned good stuff there. In Australia we don’t seem to have that writing tradition so much. A while ago I went looking on the ‘net for it, and found this thoughtful essay by Mark Tredinnick, himself an accomplished Australian writer and poet: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/writing/more/catching_the_lyric_of_the_country/
    It’s a little out of date now, but nevertheless led me to some good Australian nature writing I hadn’t come across before.

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