Thus begins the Foreward to Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, a work I recently posted about as being one of the most life-changing in my experience thus far. I have decided to reread it in preparation for a documentary film screening upcoming in February, and I am hoping to make Saturdays until then an ongoing commentary on my reading of it. Today begins my return to Sand County.
In the foreward, Leopold says, "Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free" (vii). This question is even more true today, perhaps, than when Leopold penned it in 1948. Leopold divides this work into three sections: the first focuses on his family's "refuge from too much modernity," known to them as 'the shack.' Of the shack, he writes:
we try to rebuild, with shovel and with axe, what we are losing elsewhere. It is here that we seek - and still find - our meat from God. (viii)Undoubtedly, this book had a profound impact on me almost 15 years ago, and I have a smallish collection of quotes from it copied down in a little wire-bound notebook. This passage is not among them, and I'm certain it resonates with me now because of the differences time and life have brought since then. One of the reasons we are moving again is, in a sense, a part of seeking refuge, seeking the kind of "meat from God" that I believe comes through investing in, engaging with, and giving back to a place. We have been missing that kind of investment for awhile, and though our current situation has brought many blessings, it is this kind of commitment to axe and shovel that has me so energized about our upcoming transition.
Leopold closes the Foreward with a brief explanation of what is meant by his land ethic, and I quote it rather lengthily here because I truly believe it could not be more important nor more true.
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. ... 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. These essays attempt to weld these three concepts. Such a view of land and people is, of course, subject to the blurs and distortions of personal experience and personal bias. But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal clear: 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. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build then, or even to turn off the tap. (viii-ix)In section 1, Leopold divides his essays by the month and organizes chronologically, and though I will not stretch my reading of this book over the whole year, it makes a tidy kind of sense to be starting in January with him.