Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Journeys Around the Sun: Aldo Leopold

In my previous posts, I talked about natural history books that have an almanac structure: Edwin Way Teale’s A Walk Through the Year, and Hal Borland’s Twelve Moons of the Year. Today, I’m continuing with another classic natural history author.

Today, it’s one of the most famous written celebrations of the annual cycle of nature, by that giant oak of the conservation movement, Aldo Leopold: A Sand County Almanac (New York: Oxford University Press, 1949). It’s not a day-by-day approach; its chronology is monthly. The location is Wisconsin, but the application is global.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can get it for just the cost of shipping; there are over 2 million copies in print; just do it. It is a great classic of natural history writing, full of heart and soul, unflinching truthfulness, a celebration of all that is wild. A bonus thrill is that (in the original edition) the illustrations are by Missouri’s own Charles W. Schwartz.

In keeping with the theme of longing for spring, I’m sharing a sample from this book, also about birds and the coming of springtime, from a section titled “The Geese Return”:

“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.

“A cardinal, whistling spring to a thaw but later finding himself mistaken, can retrieve his error by resuming his winter silence. A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath but finding a blizzard, has only to go back to bed. But a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat. His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges.” (“March,” p. 18.)

“. . . When it has become warm enough to sit outdoors, we love to listen to the proceedings of the convention in the marsh. There are long periods of silence when one hears only the winnowing of snipe, the hoot of a distant owl, or the nasal clucking of some amorous coot. Then, of a sudden, a strident honk resounds, and in an instant pandemonium echoes. There is a beating of pinions on water, a rushing of dark prows propelled by churning paddles, and a general shouting by the onlookers of a vehement controversy. Finally some deep honker has his last word, and the noise subsides to that half-audible small-talk that seldom ceases among geese.” (Ibid., p. 22.)

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