I’d never read the work of Aldo Leopold, but always had a vibe that philosophically we might have something in common. He’s one of the most prominent voices from the early North American conservation movement and I’d read of him regularly and particularly of the “Land Ethic” he articulated. I finally tracked down a copy of one of his influential works A Sand County Almanac, bundled with some essays from Round River, and published posthumously in 1949. I have a friend who once became enraged by how Thoreau’s work seemed to primarily be read in pull-quote form on social media or on email footers, and Leopold too is eminently quotable. In that spirit, this article will really be a collection of salient quotes tenuously connected with our own experience.
About three fifths of my volume of A Sand County Almanac is dedicated to Leopold’s observations of his Wisconsin home, together with sections reflecting on other landscapes of North America. While his meditations on geese landing on ponds and the accumulated wisdom of pine trees are a beautiful thing, I admit I skipped over some of this section to get to his more directly philosophical work. One of his central arguments is about the need to separate economic perceptions of value from our appreciation of the landscape, with a particular focus on acknowledging the social and cultural importance of a landscape and the intrinsic worth of ecological diversity and resilience. From his essay Country,
There is much confusion between land and country. Land is the place where corn, gullies and mortgages grow. Country is the personality of land, the collective harmony of its soil, life, and weather. … Poor land may be rich country, and vice versa. Only economists mistake physical opulence for riches. Country may be rich despite a conspicuous poverty of physical endowment, and its quality may not be apparent at first glance, nor at all times. … In country, as in people, a plain exterior often conceals hidden riches, to perceive which requires much living in and with.
For me this echoes the tension we’re trying to navigate with Yarnauwi, to transition the landscape away from one that has grown gullies and mortgages for generations to one that again supports a diversity and complexity of lives, and that acknowledges and inhabits the many cultural stories that have shaped it. If we think about the permaculture principle of “obtaining a yield”, Leopold suggests that the yield may not be economic or even tangible, but can still be something of value. Continue reading