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Early environmentalist’s classic gets an upgrade

Earth Day is Monday. Mother Earth has endured a lot over the millennia. The adverse impact that our civilization is having upon the planet in the form of accelerating climate change is becoming more clear with each passing year. Ancient glaciers are receding. The ice caps diminish. Ocean levels are rising along with average temperatures.

We live here. Should we be feeling concerned?

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was a keen observer of nature. During the first half of the 20th century Leopold was one of our first outspoken environmentalists. His essay collection “A Sand County Almanac” was published after his death. It has sold more than 2 million copies. His prescient essays were expressions of his philosophy and environmental ethics.

The Library of America just published a “A Sand County Almanac and Other Writings.” This volume has his enduring classic along with a collection of more than 50 additional essays, lectures and articles written by Leopold.

Edited by Curt Meine, the book also contains Leopold’s field journals and nearly a hundred pieces of the author’s correspondence. There are also more than 100 of Leopold’s maps, photos and drawings. Much of this additional material has never been published before.

This book is a mother lode of inspiring and edifying material.

Leopold’s first lines in his forward to “A Sand County Almanac” give us an early indication as to which way the wind will be blowing. He writes: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”

His meditations and reflections upon what he sees and senses in the natural world can be whimsical and often magical. His observations can lead us to ponder our own places in this world. Here’s one typical expression of his thoughts: “The wild things that live on my farm are reluctant to tell me, in so many words, how much of my township is included within their daily or nightly beat. I am curious about this, for it gives me the ratio between the size of their universe and the size of mine, and it conveniently begs the much more important question, who is the more thoroughly acquainted with the world in which he lives?”

Leopold was an early proponent of preserving large areas of untouched wilderness. He did some deep thinking on the subject of access to outdoor recreation. In his essay “Conservation Ethic” he observes that “recreational development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.”

The author was emphatic in his beliefs. In June,1947 he closed a piece that he had written for the Garden Club of America with these words:

“Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays. That philosophy is dead in human relations, and its funeral in land-relations is overdue.”

The chronology of Aldo Leopold’s life ends one week after his manuscript for “A Sand County Almanac” is accepted. On April 21, 1948, he “succumbs to a heart attack and dies while helping to fight an escaped grass fire on a neighbor’s farm … .” Leopold’s message remains enduring and potent today.

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