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Aldo Leopold's, "A Sand County Almanac" and Global Sustainability

Page history last edited by pinkhamc@... 5 years, 7 months ago

On April 15th of 2015, I was invited to be a speaker in Nyack College's Annual Critical Reads Symposium.  The topic this year was Global Sustainability.  I chose to comment on Aldo Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac."


The poster for the presentation:


The link to the presentation: Nyack Presentation-150415 - Notes.pptx


The text that goes with the slides in the presentation:

1-black slide.  Have internet running in the background.  PRAY.


2-Note slides are numbered in lower right.  If you have a question on a slide, jot the number down with your question for the discussion following.  More about the cabin later.




4-This is your Dr. Pinkham at 2 years and 21 years.  He was born with the flair for the dramatic, which explains a lot doesn’t it? Not really relevant, but I couldn’t resist.




6-I will eventually focus on A Sand County Almanac, but first, a little further excursion into the environmental movement is warranted.


Note that those before the transition points were the seeds for the following movement.


In other words, your success is not only going to depend upon who you are, but also upon who the others were who preceded you.


7-The point is one you are constantly reminded of in your education.  What we know and do now is the result of millions of hours of the efforts of those who came before us.




9-I’m talking about me here because as you’ve heard, I was swept up in the current of the environmental movement.  Applying these acts to military operations was my assignment.


Most laws begin as bills that must pass through both houses of the Congress and then be signed by the President to become enforceable.  Such laws remain in effect until they are modified by Congress.  Some laws begin as an Executive Order by the President in which case they remain enforceable as long as that person is president or they are approved by Congress.   NEPA was one of the latter.  The EPA and the Council on Environmental Quality, which established the Environmental Impact Statement procedure came out of NEPA.


10-The latter is what launched my military and professional career.  Say a little about it.




12-Got it?


13-black slide


14-22   Possible Responsible Presidents of U.S., in order


23-This slide shows each president in order, the years they were in office, the number of years they served, & the number of the president they were Nixon.  What is Nixon remembered for?


24-You can go through your life making great decisions, but one stupid decision will ruin it all.  THINK long and hard before you act.




26-Green represents locations where Aldo Leopold wrote about in Sand County Almanac.  In other words, locations where he has spent some time and/or did research.  Red represents locations where I have done likewise.


Some of you may not know that the Delta of the Colorado is this green dot.  It will be important to know that shortly.


27-p 86. Science knows little about home range: how big it is at various seasons, what food and cover it must include, when and how it is defended against trespass, and whether ownership is an individual, family, or group affair. These are the fundamentals of animal economics, or ecology. Every farm is a textbook on animal ecology; woodsmanship is the translation of the book.


28-p 93. To band a bird is to hold a ticket in a great lottery. Most of us hold tickets on our own survival, but we buy them from the insurance company, which knows too much to sell us a really sporting chance. It is an exercise in objectivity to hold a ticket on the banded sparrow that falleth, or on the banded chickadee that may some day re-enter your trap, and thus prove that he is still alive.


29-Pp 157-158. Man always kills the thing he loves, and so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?


30-p 150. It is the part of wisdom never to revisit a wilderness, for the more golden the lily, the more certain that someone has gilded it. To return not only spoils a trip, but tarnishes a memory. It is only in the mind that shining adventure remains forever bright. For this reason, I have never gone back to the Delta of the Colorado since my brother and I explored it, by canoe, in 1922.


31-p 28. He who hopes for spring with upturned eye never sees so small a thing as Draba. He who despairs of spring with downcast eye steps on it, unknowing. He who searches for spring with his knees in the mud finds it, in abundance. …Sand too poor and sun too weak for bigger, better blooms are good enough for Draba. After all it is no spring flower, but only a postscript to a hope.


32-p 40. We found the main stream so low …and so warm that we could duck in its deepest pool without a shout…. We asked that stream for trout, and it gave us a chub. … Two hundred miles of hot, dusty road we had come, to feel again the impetuous tug of a disillusioned brook or rainbow. There were no trout. But this, we now remembered, was a stream of parts. High up near the headwaters we had once seen a fork, narrow, deep, and fed by cold springs …. What would a self-respecting trout do in such weather? Just what we did: go up.


33-p 58. There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting, and ruffed-grouse hunting. There are two places to hunt grouse: ordinary places, and Adams County. There are two times to hunt in Adams: ordinary times, and when the tamaracks are smoky gold. This is written for those luckless ones who have never stood, gun empty and mouth agape, to watch the golden needles come sifting down, while the feathery rocket that knocked them off sails unscathed into the jackpines.


34-p184. The most glamorous hobby I know today is the revival of falconry.  It has a few addicts in America….For two and a half cents one can buy and shoot a cartridge that will kill the heron whose capture by hawking requires months or years of laborious training of both the hawk and hawker.


35-p77. It is evident that our plant biases are in part traditional. If your grandfather liked hickory nuts, you will like the hickory tree because your father told you to. If, on the other hand, your grandfather burned a log carrying a poison ivy vine and recklessly stood in the smoke, you will dislike the species, no matter with what crimson glories it warms your eyes each fall.


36-p 75. The wielder of an axe has as many biases as there are species of trees on his farm. In the course of the years he imputes to each species, from his responses to their beauty or utility, and their responses to his labors for or against them, a series of attributes that constitute a character. I am amazed to learn what diverse characters different men impute to one and the same tree.


37-p 207. The present educational marathon in memorizing the geography of bones is the aftermath of this perfectly logical process of competition.  It has, of course, other justifications.  Medical students need it; zoology teachers need it.  But I contend that the average citizen does not need it so badly as he needs some understanding of the living world.


38-We will come back to this presently.


39-This is the list of activities Leopold writes about in A Sand County Almanac from his own experience.


40-Each of the activities Leopold writes about, I have also experienced.


41-And, yes, this includes falconry and banding.  The picture on the left is from p 185, the picture on the right is of me (when I had hair), releasing a just-banded peregrine falcon on Assateague Island, in Virginia.


42-This common experience stirs memories and deeper appreciation of his works, rather than jealousy or contempt.  So, get out and experience as much as you can of the natural wonders.  It will give you a much deeper appreciation of God’s Creation.


43-Returning to note taking, this is Leopold’s Legacy as reported on the Aldo Leopold Archives at the University of Wisconsin.

And This is what would be said about me in a similar vein.


44-So, if you don’t keep a notebook, start one.  If you do, never stop writing in it.


45-Citizen scientists are people like you, who help scientists with their research.


46-I first read this as an activist in the environmental movement during grad school on the prairie of Illinois.  I appreciated it for its good writing.  Little did I know at the time that it would come to inspire my writing and play a role in my teaching.

In it, Aldo Leopold introduces the now-familiar concept of the Carbon-cycle.  Or perhaps he had in mind the Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, or even Phosphorus or Sulfur cycle.  And why would the cycle of these elements be important in the first place?  The answer eluded me until I started teaching Human Anatomy and Physiology and realized these were the elements that make up 99.9% of our body or the body of any living organism for that matter.   In what follows, X is atom of one of these elements.


This is an example of excellent scientific writing.


STAY ON SLIDE 47 until you have finished reading:

When I graduated from Norwich and even from the University of Illinois with my PhD, I could barely write and subsequently hated every letter of it.  This did not go over well with my bosses in the Army research groups I was assigned to.  Two people in succession (Scott Ward at Edgewood Arsenal, MD, and Ken Howell at Dugway Proving Ground, UT), took me under their wings and taught me one-on-one how to write well.  Strangely, not only did I find my writing was clearer and more powerful, but I found I now ENJOYED writing.


48- I could have chosen an example from my grad school or early professional documents, but, in truth, they are too horrendous for me to read now.  So instead, I will take an example of writing from a journal that I will say more about shortly.  (Now open slide 48.) This short piece, although it is well-written, is nonetheless too typical of the dry, scholarly writing found in professional journals.


49-The bottom passage is what the top passage is saying and is, hopefully, more readily understood.  It took me about 20 minutes to craft it, which is one of the many lessons I learned under the tutelage of my two Army mentors: It takes time to write well.

John Steinbeck (and I trust Kevin has made sure everyone here knows who he is), when told that, “Your books are damned easy to read.” Replied with, “That’s because they’re damned hard to write.”3  

(“East of Eden”, “Grapes of Wrath”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Tortilla Flat”, “Cannery Row”2 and my personal favorite, "The Sea of Cortez"),


50-So, here is the journal that piece came from.  If you are considering going into the professional sciences, such as nursing, mathematics or engineering, or if you are aiming to become a scientist or especially if you are planning on a career as a pastor or youth pastor, you should prayerfully consider joining ASA as an associate member.  CLICK ON LIVE LINK.


51-Become an associate student member for $20 a year or if that is to much, become an associate student basic member for free.


52-Whether or not you choose to be a full-blown scientist or become a citizen scientist, and Leopold holds citizen science in high regard and there are even more opportunities for it now than in his time, we can learn how to write well--your sense of worth, your pleasure with your words, and your success ride heavily upon it.




54-This is one of the final essays in Leopold’s book.  It provides a good capstone on what I alluded to in the prior few slides-The opportunity for Christians to enter and influence the scientific profession and the intended focus of this presentation-global sustainability.

Incidentally, you will see Aldo using the word, “ethic” in relation to the land and the environment.  He may have been the first person to give birth to the phrase, “environmental ethic.”


55-Cerulian Warbler and Woodthrush song.  Click on ACTIVE LINK.


56- CLICK ON ACTIVE LINK and talk about how rapidly it is growing and how we have successfully fulfilled the first command to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.  (It’s the only command we have been obedient to.)


57-Subdue, Kabash, (3533) used elsewhere of the land.  Used in Micah 7:19-God will tread our sins underfoot (God will KA-BASH our sins).  Seems like God wants us to stomp on it!  But wait –Increase in number”-We have done so.


But then God says, “Rule.” Radah, (7287) This word means to reign or rule over.  Elsewhere it is clear that there is a right way to rule and a wrong way.  E.g., In Lev 25:43, The Jews are warned to avoid ruling over their Jewish servants harshly, “Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.”  And to drive the idea home, it is repeated 3 and 11 verses later.  It is used in 1 Kings 9:23 & 2 Ch 8:10 to convey the concept of supervision so the work will be done properly.


58 - To take care of Shamar, (8104).  It means to observe, preserve, and save.  It is in this sense that Shamar is used numerous times to describe what God does for us as He watches over us and preserves us.


This was God’s original intent, one that He would have us apply to the Land. The Land plays a huge role in God’s word.  It is mentioned over 1300 times in the Old Testament. 


59-Throughout God’s word we asked to be good stewards of the Land, observing it, watching over it, and preserving it.  We are nowhere told to exploit it and destroy it.  Yet, that is precisely what we are doing-next slide.


60-This is taken from one of my lectures in Environmental Biology.  The baseline extinction rate suggests that the speciation rate is about 1 species per 1000 every 1000 yrs.  Note the extinction rate predicted for the future.  What on earth does THAT mean?


61-For a very short time, say 50 years the extinction rate would be that high so in that 50 years, the number of extinctions would be about 350 out of 1000, so that rate could not be sustained for long.  Very quickly the rate would drop as only the more resilient species survived, but the details of this demise, whether rapidly as in red or more gradually as in black is anyone’s guess.  The point is it won’t take long, perhaps even in your lifetimes when the number of species left on earth will be a very small fraction of what we have now.


62-Bottom line-If we want to see global sustainability, we Christians, who have a Divine Directive to Shamar His creation, must become active and vocal in the world. 

Think green in all you do.  Conserve energy, turn off the lights when you leave a room, walk or ride a bike when you can, recycle, pool your resources so you consume less.  Eat more vegetables, fruit and grain and less meat.  (The cow had to eat 10 pounds of grain for every one pound hamburger you eat.  That same 10 pounds of grain could feed 5-10 people.)  Don’t always go for the biggest and flashiest. Don’t fall victim to the wiles of the prosperity gospel.  Live Aldo Leopold’s ethic and aim to impress God, not people.  Vocalize your concern in conversations, from the pulpit, and in professional circles. 


In other words--Make sacrifices to sustain God’s creation.  Sacrifice, is after all, the tap root of Christianity, not a leaf at the end of a topmost branch that falls with the slightest breeze. 




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