One day as a newspaper reporter in an earlier life, I was stuck on a small boat in the Chesapeake Bay with a US Fish & Wildlife Service biologist. To avoid justifying the environmental policies of the current adminstration (Reagan), he swung the conversation around to books.
His favorite was “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold. I had never heard of this conservationist (he died in 1948), so I bought that book a few days later. It later found a place on the bookshelf with John Muir, Edward Abbey, Colin Fletcher and John McPhee.
Leopold's home state of Wisconsin has honored his memory by naming the state's 42 trails as the Aldo Leopold Legacy Trail System. The 1,700-mile trail system includes paths for bicycling, hiking and snowmobiling.
Naming a trail system for Leopold is a good idea. He took his readers into close contact with nature, just the way a good trail leads hikers and bikers into a forest.
Leopold's “Almanac” is a compilation of essays about wildlife, man and nature. He pushed for environmental conservation, but not in a preachy way. He simply wrote about what's “out there” and our place in it.
The first set of essays are my favorites. Month by month, he recounts his observations in nature around his farm in Wisconsin.
Flipping through the book, I remember that although he's credited with being an early voice of the modern environmental movement, he was also a regular hunter. It reminds me that some of the most ardent conservationists also hunt and fish.
A famous quote from the book:
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Check out the website for all 42 trails in the Wisconsin trail system.