Book Review: A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

 

For lack of a better phrase, this book pretty much “fell into my lap” during an environmental education conference. Having attended a panel about Leopold, I discussed with the instructor how I had not yet acquired a copy to read; he insisted I take his, and I did so graciously. I had heard of Aldo Leopold; who in any environmental field hasn’t? However, his writings were never something I sought out. When I was in college, as far as I was concerned, “Aldo Leopold” was simply another name I had to memorize for my exam involving the history of environmental ethics. When I saw a session option at the conference about him, I decided to sign up because maybe I would hear some interesting thoughts regarding the environment or viewpoints I could implement into my outlook and my teachings. I had no idea what I was in for.

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I do not think I have ever been so wrapped up in a book that is just the personal musings of an individual. Even in the introduction, he explains that these are his own “delights and dilemmas.” I honestly thought I would be bored to tears after the first segment, but I found myself delving more and more into this man’s life and always anticipating the next nugget of insight that seemed to always match my own thoughts and perceptions. I found myself bookmarking page after page so that I could refer back to some of my favorite quotes.

 

I believe Aldo Leopold had an outlook that was far beyond his time. All of the things he wrote about are topics conservation organizations today are only just now beginning to truly make progress on. Beyond that, his philosophy strikes a chord with me more than anything else in this book. This is a man I could strive to be like. I thought I was in tune to nature and really able to pay attention to what was happening in my environment; this man brought it to a whole new level that I do not think many people have replicated. He was constantly at his little farm, watching, observing, and absorbing every little thing and how each was possibly connected to everything else in the ecosystem. It is a perception I think I can only strive for, but never truly achieve. One of my favorite quotes is from when he is talking about wanting to understand what geese say to one another. It’s my favorite because it mirrors my own outlook: “What a dull world if we knew all about geese!” He was content with not knowing the answers to everything, simply because not knowing makes our universe a more wonderful and magical place. It keeps things interesting, it keeps you guessing, and it keeps you asking questions.

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I am incredibly happy I read this book. Not only because it was vastly interesting, but also because it paints a picture as to how I want to interact with and feel about the environment around me. The respect, awe, and reverence Aldo Leopold had for the land he lived on is, in my opinion, unparalleled. This is an outlook I want to adopt within myself and, ideally, foster within my students. I entered environmental education because I want to make a difference. I know I can teach kids all the information regarding the environment I could possibly want, but without a true appreciation for the environment and what it all means, they are less likely to act in the environment’s best interests. I know not every child can be reached, but if I can find a way to reach some of kids and help them to be as fascinated with plants, bugs, and fungi as I am, I think that would be amazing. I try very hard within each lesson to show students some of the really cool stuff that may not necessarily be within the strict curriculum of that hike. One of my favorite things to do is to simply have them stand at the bottom of an old oak tree in a forest and look straight up at the branches. Without fail, every reaction I have ever gotten from the kids is one of awe: “WHOAAAA.” It’s so easy to hike around a forest and forget to look up, and an action as simple as that really seems to get them thinking about all the things in a forest that they could learn to appreciate. Sometimes, later on, I will catch one or two students looking up at the trees and talking about how cool the trees look as they sway in the breeze. Some ideals just can’t be taught via academic standards – so I try very hard to add those moments in wherever I can. Aldo Leopold inspires me to try harder everyday to teach about the intrinsic value of the environment, in addition to a lesson’s curriculum.

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Do you have a book or person that inspires you to try even harder at what you do? What are your thoughts of Aldo Leopold and his works? Write your comments below!

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