Aldo Leopold

A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

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A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There Summary

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A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There is a collection of non-fiction essays by ecologist Aldo Leopold. The book was edited and published in 1949 by Luna Leopold, Aldo’s daughter. Today it is considered a pioneering work in the American conservation movement. The contents of the book are a collection of scene descriptions, natural history, and philosophy, all of which Leopold invokes in service of his idea of land ethics, or the responsibilities humans should have towards their natural environment.

The book can be divided into three parts. The first twelve chapters make up the Sand County Almanac section of the collection. In them, Leopold discusses how nature changes throughout the year near his farm in Baraboo, Wisconsin. In the second section, Sketches Here and There, he describes places he has traveled. Finally, in the third section, which Leopold calls The Upshot, he includes philosophical essays related to conservation.

Sand County Almanac begins in the month of January with the first thaw of the year. Leopold describes the animal activity that occurs because of the thaw. In February, Leopold fells an oak tree to provide heat for his farm. He counts the rings, finding it to be 80 years old, and considers some of the things the oak has lived through during that time, including the Civil War and the Great Depression. When March comes, he watches the migrating geese and describes their journey.

April comes and the snow melts, flooding Leopold’s farm. He discusses how the animals react to the rising water level, and describes some of the flowers that begin to grow during this month. In May, land birds lay eggs in the field. Leopold says that the birds’ only enemies are ditches and gullies dug by people. When June comes, Leopold goes fishing for trout.

In July, Leopold describes the plants and animals that flourish during summer. August is dedicated to a poetic sketch in which he compares a real landscape to a landscape painting. In September, Leopold pays special attention birdsong and describes some of it. In October, Leopold goes hunting for fresh meat and he discusses the walk through the forest to find game.

November marks the onset of winter. Leopold talks about the wind picking up and the sound it makes in the trees. He then goes on to talk about the overall importance of trees on the environment. In December, the animals retreat to their homes, and Leopold talks about how each one has a place that is unique to it and its needs for food and shelter.

The Sketches Here and There section begins with an exploration of Leopold’s home state of Wisconsin. He discusses the history of the area, including the development of farms like his, using this as a jumping-off point to talk about how humans affect their environment. Next, Leopold remembers a visit to Illinois and Iowa. He is suspicious of the way the State College in those states puts farming profits above everything else.

Next, Leopold talks about time he spent living in New Mexico and Arizona. He describes places that were once only accessible on horseback but can now be reached by anyone due to developments in technology. He also discusses the efforts made by ranchers in the area to kill wolves or bears that were believed to pose a threat to wildlife. On a trip to Central Mexico, Leopold is impressed by the natural beauty of the place and worries that if he ever tries to return the beauty will be gone.

In a chapter on Oregon and Utah, Leopold talks about invasive species that flourish in environments to which they are not native, giving several examples of invasive species that have come to North America from Europe. In the final chapter of this section, he recounts a trip to Manitoba, Canada, were he was especially struck by the marshes. He makes the argument that American marshes are migrating north since Canada makes better efforts to preserve them.

The essays in the Upshot section of the book address questions and contradictions inherent to the conservation movement. In the first, Leopold worries that efforts to preserve wilderness also destroy wilderness because they encourage people to visit the protected areas. In the second, he talks about the early pioneers’ relationship with hunting as a way of providing food for their families and then compares that to the sport hunting of the modern era. Next, he discusses the destruction of wilderness area and details some of the dwindling natural resources in the United States. Finally, Leopold ends the book with a chapter summarizing his land ethic and outlining the duty he thinks people should have towards their environment.

Leopold’s collection was an influential book in the United States and elsewhere. It has been translated into over 14 languages and is considered by the American Nature Study Society, among others, to be one of the most significant books on conservation ever written.