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A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

‘Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher 'standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free’ - Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold was an American author, naturalist, and conservationist. Born in Iowa in 1887. His most acclaimed book ‘A Sand County Almanac’ was written in 1949.

This book has been on my reading list for a long time. It’s claimed to be a ‘classic’, the Aldo Leopold Foundation say it ‘serves as one of the cornerstones of modern conservation science, policy and ethics’. High praise, and endless 5 star reviews.

I’ll try not give any spoilers away, but it’s a series of interconnected essays. Writings about Aldo’s farm, land it's flora, fauna and surrounding area, with a third section a philosophical discussion on ‘land ethics’. I also want to say I don’t know anything else about Aldo Leopold at this point, I haven’t read any further as to his work in the field of environmentalism. But you can find more at the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

I struggled with this book. I’m always open minded, and ready to read another point of view from that of my own. It’s the only way to learn and understand other people’s perspectives. Even taking into consideration the era it was written in, mid 40’s America couldn’t be any different from my own experiences here in the UK.

The hunting! I tried hard to put it into context, but found it very difficult to read. I read this from my own valid life experience. I’ve not eaten meat for over 30 years, I realise that I can choose to do this, in a society that makes it easy to find the right foods. I also live in a country where hunting isn’t done to survive. It’s a ‘sport’ to the wealthy, you have to have a license to fish and classed as ‘poaching’ at the other end of the class system. Subsistence living was taken away from the lower classes in the UK after the ‘Inclosures act’ between 1604 and 1914. Wealthy landowners fenced and walled off ‘common’ land , making it against the law to hunt, fish, graze animals or collect firewood. You can read Nick Hayes ‘The Book Of Trespass’, and Guy Shrubhole’s ‘Who Owns England’ to find out more about the history of land in the UK.

We also don’t live with the fear of large mammals here in the UK, wolves were persecuted to extinction by 1760, bears long before that. Even taking all those things into consideration I struggled.

Parts were written beautifully, and Aldo knows his land intimately. He argues against progress, the building of roads, holiday resorts, shooting estates for a purer relationship with nature. It highlights the fact that worry over land use and abuse (environmentalism), isn’t new. It’s been of concern for many years.

However, he fails to mention pre pioneer days in America. The fact that a ‘land ethic’ already existed. The indigenous population of the America’s had been living with the land, not just on it for centuries. He even bypasses indigenous populations when speaking about examples of healthy land with human inhabitation, claiming Eastern Europe to be a good example.

I tried to find other reviews that have the same outlook as myself but found none. I did find a couple of interesting articles on The Conversation that begin to address this, here and in the New Yorker which goes further into racism in environmentalism.

I would still recommend reading this book, for its time it was progressive. Moving away from what Aldo calls the ‘Abrahamic’ concept of land. The land given as a commodity to use. To seeing the land as community to which we all belong.

‘ our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy’

Written in 1949!, powerful words. We are at peak Capitalism in the West on the brink of Climate collapse, how much longer can it carry on?

I agree with his assertion that the system back then, that still perpetuates now will not accomplish anything worthwhile

‘ obey the law, vote right, join some organizations, and practice what conservation is profitable on our own land; the government will do the rest.’

We can’t rely on the government, to do the rest, self interest is often at its heart. Big companies able to lobby goverments at the expense of evryone else. Today's article on the fossil fuel industry being a good example.

In his ‘Land Ethic’ chapter he claims..

‘In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow members, and also respect for the community as such’

Aldo was writing this from his own experiences, it’s unclear whether by this he meant to include indigenous people. We now as a society need to make that include all ‘homo sapiens’. Acknowledging the past, acknowledging that large amounts of people have been sidelined, and left out of the conversation. Often those living with the consequences of our ‘bigger-and-better’ society.

If you haven’t already I highly recommend reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’,

Robin writes as a woman, scientist, botanist, and indigenous American. Speaking of centuries of ‘land ethic’, community and reciprocity with the land and its inhabitants. All life has agency, and a right to be.

‘On one side of the world were people whose relationship with the living world was shaped by Skywoman, who created a garden for the well-being of all. On the other side was a woman with a garden and a tree. But for tasting its fruit, she was banished from the garden and the gates clanged shut behind her. That mother of men was made to wander in the wilderness and earn her bread by the sweat of her brow, not by filling her mouth with the sweet juicy fruits that bend the branches low. In order to eat, she was instructed to subdue the wilderness into which she was cast’

This is the second book in a row I have not felt totally at one with (read my John Fowles The Tree review), but that is how it should be. We need to read from different eras and different voices. We won't always agree, but hearing from another's experience can help us understand. Aldo's voice was heard, and venerated but 70 years later we are still on the brink of the sixth mass extinction. We need to hear more diverse voices.

Ha), but that is how it should be. We need to read from different eras and different voices. We won't always agree, but hearing from another's experience can help us understand. Aldo's voice was heard, and venerated but 70 years later we are still on the brink of the sixth mass extinction. We need to hear more diverse voices.

Have you read A Sand County Almanac? I'd love to hear your thoughts? Particula

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