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Look Back to Look Ahead: Leopolds Legacy


the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

Muir

Introduction/Overview
One of the first questions in our UNM ENG 320 class was why and how we would use
rhetoric to help find our way to a solution of an immense problem in our world. One answer was
our suffering environment, a critical problem affecting all of us, and our possible survival on the
Earth.
Aldo Leopold, one of our first wildlife scientists, conservators, and champions, gracefully
and with little bravado, in A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There,

gives us a

calm, simple and poetic placing of our peoples upon our one lovely planet. He presents a concord
of the humane and a wilderness of beasts that quietly informs a harmonic union between them
that has poles for human deeds, actions and needs, while celebrating, respecting and revering a
wildness that is necessary for our own souls and beings to thrive. He embodies a reverence for
all of nature and the humane, because, as does Paul Woodruff in Reverence, he sees we are
inseparable as a people from the earth, and that land is not a metaphoric commodity-in re Lakoff,
Johnson (Metaphors We Live By)- but our sacred belonged to place, worthy of care, feeding, and
rehabilitation. Leopold was one of our worlds first thinkers to see that Nature was not a thing to
be fought against and dominated, but rather an integral part of our own beings and souls. He saw,
over the course of his groundbreaking career, that unless we change the ways we live on the

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Earth, and change the ways we think about our role in our world, that our place of belonging to
the one Earth could be damaged in a way that perhaps could not be repaired. He wrote and
thought in a way that speaks to a discourse that can celebrate the divers ways we spin and
shoulder forward our blue planet, together, in a way that we can hope to speak and listen to each
otherin our stories and in our lives-to best celebrate all of ourselves, our place in our cultures,
and our hoped for union with Nature. A society that does not grow and evolve in an antagonistic,
necessary tension of its polarized parts of understanding and enlightenment will wither and die
and blow away like ash on the wind. The motives and deeds of the social connections of our
peoples will not matter if we do not learn to live gently and ethically upon the Earth. Systems of
thoughts and philosophies may require generations to fully reveal themselves, and later workers
may greatly reform and carry forward the labors of the originators. Lightning may not strike
twice but it is up to us to keep the electric alive, flowing and surging forward. So may we learn
to carry forward Leopolds work.

Narrative Structure/Character
Leopold bought a small, worn-out farm as a weekend respite for his family from his work
as a teacher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He spent more and more time there as he
worked to heal the ravages people had caused upon the land by treating it as an exploitable
commodity. The small book is in three parts. The Almanac is grouped by chapters, each of a
month, in order. Sketches presents his life as a wildlife conservator and scientist in six chapters of
where he has lived and worked. In four chapters, Upshot presents his philosophies and theories
of conservation, and the necessity that governs this. He presents well-grounded

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scientific observations in a very American homespun way. His musings and reflections of his
ramblings and actions are simple, lovely, and poetic in their purity and clarity. This is his final
book, and he considered it the ultimate thrust of his large career as a conservationist, a
philosopher of our peoples places upon, on and in the land, and the founder of wildlife
management. Had he not written this small, most elegant book, we would remember him as one
of our most important scientists and exponents of the possible of what can be done to attain a
world that can thrive forward in harmony with natureso unlike our great Western traditiona
seer, prophet and visionary who uncannily foretold so much of our current times. Yet the
plainsong of A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There attains a descant that lets us
stare into the Infinite, within us and without us. Leopold is one of our worlds greatest thinkers,
able to show us arte, and truth in a manner that is art, science, belief, a hard-fought integrity,
and a foretelling bound together in a most human way of the possible. May we all strive to attain
such a Form of the Good, a Form of the Pure.

Rhetorics/Audiences
Leopold can be analyzed with classic rhetoric, but we may just as well consider how he
uses language to teach and persuade. There is never anger, frustration, or polemic in his voice.
He is a scientist first, yet also a humanist who hopes we all can find a gift within ourselves , of a
new order of acceptance of necessity so that we do not falter, break down and die. In his subtly
nuanced and carefully built languagewithout relying on anything but his own voice, hard-fought
experience and his understanding of his own soul he achieves what Aristotle called true
rhetoric. This is a fusion of arte, meant to persuade or teach and Truth. Such a thing is

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immensely difficult, and A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There may be one of
the most important books of our times, as he writes to his audience: all of us. He means to teach
by thought and deed, by the freely given, sacred and consecrated to feed all of our souls as a gift.

Significance/Conclusion
This matters because somehow, somewhy we must learn to consider the land to be
of itself and not merely useful to us. We are not land conquerors; we are peers and citizens of the
Earth. We must fire both reason and passion to a truthful beacon, with sentient conscience, and
our best, most reverent knowing of what is the most right. Leopold tells us that to live kindly
upon the land is our greatest moral choice, as we are from and of the land, and as we know that
we have found the great vault of what it is to be sisters and fathers and sons and mothers to our
glammering world made of stardust and comets and gravity and flaring light -many forces
beyond our knowing, perhaps for all of our time to come. Leopold gives us our best sight of a
divine and earthly unity to allow us to use our philosophic history to find a new placement of
peoples in the nature we cannot deny, a new placement while if not perfect, could at least give
traction to an uphill battle out of a current destruction of and divorce from our one most lovely
world. Philosophies, treatises, charters, constitutions and manifestos of environmental ethics and
change mean nothing without our deeds and action. They become mere pretty words. We do not
trail the wraiths of our beloved dead about us for the sake of pretty words. Necessity requires
action. In the film Happy, the townspeople feel close to the land of their forbears, although they

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paradoxically work in an exploitative lead mine. We must be as ingenious as we can be to


reconcile economics with nature and freedom with luxury. Democracy and personhood may
prove inadequate to the looming task. Most likely we will not recognize the yet to come of our
times ahead, as we will need to devise as yet not known technologies , philosophies, economies,
and as well new rhetorics of freedoms and necessities, responsibilities and arts such as we cannot
yet know, that may in the best possible case carry us forward. For this we will have thanks to
those who came before us, their stories and histories. We need new understandings of the way in
which we are none of us alone and how that gives premise to the social discipline of many more
bases of the modes of how we are when we are in union together, so much more than can be
singly. It is the simple truth that we cannot destroy the Earth through despoliation, degradation,
war and overpopulation. It is only our one racethe human race we shall destroy. May we not
do that. Our Mother Earth in her Kosmic genesis of Kaos has no need of our small race, and shall
spin serenely along. Let us save ourselves for ourselves, our beloved ancestors, and our children
yet to come.
If we can, learn to develop a deeper reverence of the wild world that brought us forth-in
a mystery of a glory- and the connectedness of all the parts of our lovely one blue planet, learn to
think and act with our best meaning of the truthful and embrace a torment of political struggle
and great, almost inconceivable change, if we can learn to fuse the ideal and the real in whiteviolet hot reason and passion, it may be that we shall endure as well.

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Sources
Primary
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. London, Oxford, New
York: Oxford University Press, 1949. Print.

Secondary
Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, London: University of
Chicago Press, 1980, 2003. Print.
Salt of the Earth. Dir. Herbert Biberman. IPC, International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter
Workers, 1954. Film.
Woodruff, Paul. Reverence; Renewing a Forgotten Virtue. Oxford, New York: University of
Oxford Press. 2014. Print.