Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free.
Those words are as true today as they were when Aldo Leopold wrote them on March 4, 1948, just 48 days before his death on April 21st of that year. A Sand County Almanac was published posthumously by Leopold’s son, Luna, in 1949. Later, in 1953, Leopold’s unpublished essays were put together in a book called Round River.
In 1966, A Sand County Almanac and Round River were combined to form this edition:
More than seventy years later we are still struggling to maintain the balance between progress and keeping things “natural, wild, and free”.
“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,” Leopold wrote. “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.”
In his foreword to A Sand County Almanac, Leopold also wrote, “Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.
“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.”
Leopold also wrote, “our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. . . . Nothing could be more salutary as this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.
“Perhaps such a shift in values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined terms of things natural, wild, and free.”
Over the course of the next weeks, I will be working my way through A Sand County Almanac. I hope to convey that what Leopold saw as important, or even imperative, in 1948 is just as important in 2019.