A Sand County Almanac, with Essays on Conservation from Round River. Aldo Leopold. 1966, Sierra Club/Ballantine Books, NY. Original © 1949 and 1953


A Sand County Almanac is a classic series of essays on observing and thinking about nature, written in the 1930's and 1940's by the founder of American wildlife and conservation management. Some of his most particular criticisms are too specific, and therefore dated, but overall the points are at least as valid now as then. Organic farming is mentioned in passing as being almost a cult (which it still is) but with a real base in conservation ethics.

The Sand County Almanac section is the description, observation, and appreciation of nature section, focused on his farm in Wisconsin. The Essays were written later, and they bemoan narrow-minded profit-and-loss thinking, the strip-mining of nature, and loss of wilderness. Leopold defended the conservation movement against charges that it is elitist and anti-democratic. He wrote of canoeing with his brother in the Colorado River delta - it was a dense green jungle then, and I believe that now it is barren, polluted, hypersaline. (The water has been sucked away mostly by agriculture, using federal dams and aqueducts, after which the Western good-ole-boys continue to whine about government intrusion and socialism.)

Repeating my usual complaint - there are no maps. Maps would be somewhat beside the point, but I still want them. My edition was a 1966 reprint, so there could have been follow-ups to some of the essays.


"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 wind 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 the cost in things natural, wild, and free. For those of 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.

"These wild things, I admit, had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress; our opponents do not.

from the Foreword to Sand County Almanac, 1948

"There are men charged with the duty of examining the construction of the plants, animals, and soils which are the instruments of the great orchestra. These men are called professors. Each selects one instrument and spends his life taking it apart and describing its strings and sounding boards. This process of dismemberment is called research. The place for dismemberment is called a university.

"A good hobby, in these times, is one that entails either making something or making the tools to make it with, and then using it to accomplish some needless thing."

"Our children are our signature to the roster of history; our land is merely the place our money was made. There is as yet no social stigma in the possession of a gullied farm, a wrecked forest, or a polluted stream, provided the dividends suffice to send the youngsters to college."

"The pioneer period gave birth to two ideas… one is the 'go-light' idea, the other the 'one-bullet-one-buck' idea. The pioneer went light of necessity. He lacked the transport, the cash, and the weapons requisite for machine-gun tactics. Let it be clear, then, that in their inception, both of these ideas were forced on us; we made a virtue of necessity."

book reviews
main page