By Ranger Steve Mueller
“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”
“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 things in natural wild, and free. For us in the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.” Aldo Leopold from the preface of A Sand County Almanac.
I stumbled upon the book in 1969. I did not know such good reading existed. Outdoor studies were where I experienced firsthand why geese are more important than television and discovered why finding rare flowers is an inalienable right. It was not until 1978 that I first found a pasque-flower in northwestern Minnesota at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. I can describe the experience like it happened last year.
Part 1 of a Sand County Almanac has wonderful prose for each of the twelve months. One gets steeped in the lives of wildlife and unknowingly is provided the basics for wildlife ecology and nature niches. The chapters are a delight. Part two is “Sketches Here and There.” It takes the reader on a journey across North America from Canada to Mexico. It relates how our quest for a “still higher standard of living” has diminished the quality of the environmental ecosystems and our lives. The almanac section provides essential basics that help the reader understand how the dilemmas described in part two impact the economy and esthetic quality of our lives.
The most significant section is part three called “The Upshot,” where Aldo presents a blueprint for maintaining a healthy biosphere. He demonstrates with science and emotional connections how we can pass on a healthy planet for future generations. Many, like me, have written about nature and wildlife or described conservation challenges we face. Few have provided a framework for forging a healthy and sustainable future for people and nature as well as Leopold. The book concisely laid out such a plan in 1949.
After reading the book, I meet Wakelin McNeel, who was a professor at Central Michigan University. He and I camped together in wild country. I learned he grew up with Leopold as a neighbor in Wisconsin. His dad and Aldo were close friends and Wake was friends with Leopold’s kids. I was told then that Leopold was probably the most significant conservationist of the 20th century.
When the 21st century rolled around, committees selected people for the 20th century’s most significant title in many endeavors. For conservationist of the century it came down to two people. One was Rachel Carson and the other was Aldo Leopold. Choosing one became impossible so both share the title.
If you have an inkling to enjoying nature through observation, growing plants, or hunting, I encourage you to read the book. I have been presenting a program titled “Wilderness–Unique Treasure” since 1974 based on the book. I insert prose of my own and that of poets and literary giants like Thoreau. Invite me to present the program for organizations such as conservation, hiking, hunting, fishing, birding, or botanical clubs.
“The Upshot” of the book establishes the importance of wilderness for recreation, science, and wildlife. It clearly articulates their value. I have taken pictures to illustrate the values of wilderness for present and future generations. Anticipate hearing me recite Leopold’s most famous piece titled “Thinking like A Mountain.”
I have read several great books and I am pleased to share in this book review; it can be a life changer beyond a pleasant read.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at email@example.com – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.