Leopold out loud: Voices unite statewide for Sand County Almanac readings
"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."
Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac, 1949
submitted by Jen Kobylecky, Aldo Leopold Foundation
As Aldo Leopold was writing A Sand County Almanac in Wisconsin more than 60 years ago, he could not have imagined the far-reaching impact his book would have. Published posthumously in 1949, over two million copies of Leopold's conservation classic have been printed in ten languages. To honor the lifetime contributions the famed naturalist and author made to the nation's ecological heritage, Aldo Leopold Weekend events are celebrated around the country at various times throughout the year. In Wisconsin, we commemorate his legacy on the first weekend of March each year, to mark the anniversary of the writing of “Foreword” in A Sand County Almanac.
Wisconsin's annual celebration has its roots in communities coming together to read A Sand County Almanac out loud. In March of 2000, a group called the Friends of Scenic Lodi Valley organized the first Aldo Leopold Weekend. The event was conceived as a way to identify the community of Lodi strongly with the themes in Leopold's writings. The agenda was simple: a public reading of A Sand County Almanac, cover to cover. Ten hours, 35 readers and three locations later, the residents of Lodi had found great inspiration. The event was refined and offered again in subsequent springs. By March of 2003, it was drawing nearly 500 attendees from Lodi and neighboring communities.
The experience of gathering to hear Leopold’s words read aloud brings new meaning to a text that was incredibly familiar for some, and underlines its significance for new audiences. Nina Leopold Bradley, one of Leopold's five children, remarked that she had never realized how funny her father was until she heard his words read aloud.
In attendance at Lodi's 2003 event was George Meyer, former Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He wondered aloud after his reading why every community in the state had not organized similar gatherings. As luck would have it, then-State Representative Mark Miller happened to be in the audience as well, and he shouted, “I’ll introduce that legislation!” One year later, Governor Doyle signed the legislation making Aldo Leopold Weekend an annual statewide observance.
Today, reading events continue but have blossomed and expanded to include activities that involve the whole community, creating an opportunity for people to demonstrate their individual and combined commitment to Leopold’s vision--what he called a land ethic--as part of their community.
Regional event planners often find creative ways to involve younger readers. In 2005, the community of Lodi enlisted elementary students in a dramatic reading of the classic essay “Thinking Like a Mountain,” with each student assigned to a different part. Communities have also enhanced their reading events with more hands-on, family friendly activities. Because the Leopolds cooked exclusively in Dutch ovens when visiting their weekend retreat along the Wisconsin River, workshops on how to use them (complete with tastings) are a popular activity on Leopold Weekend. And the Argyle Rod and Gun club has hosted a tri-sport competition on Aldo Leopold Weekend, encouraging young and old people alike to practice safe and ethical sporting skills. In doing so, they set out to acknowledge that Leopold, an avid sportsman from a very young age, worked to bridge the gap that sometimes exists between the ideologies of the sporting community and the naturalist community.
Also during the 2005 activities, State Senator Neal Kedzie, a co-author of the Leopold Weekend legislation, helped remove a private property sign at a parcel near Lulu Lake in East Troy. The land was formally dedicated to the Nature Conservancy, which has played a large role in maintaining the high quality of this 86-acre kettle lake. After the ceremony, participants enjoyed a hike on the property.
This year, the celebration continues--with guided hikes; original music; multimedia presentations; workshops in nature journaling, wolf biology and bench-building; and of course, Wisconsin voices joining together to read from Leopold's classic text.
PortalWisconsin.org has developed a calendar of 2009 Leopold Weekend events around the state. Visit the Web page to find a reading in your area.