I write to you today from Madison, Wis., where I am attending the Grassland Restoration Network Workshop. This is a conference of land managers from across the Midwest who work on grasslands.
As part of the workshop we go on field trips to see restoration work being done and to learn from successes and failures at each site. However, on this trip we also got to walk in the footsteps of conservation history as we visited Aldo Leopold’s shack and farm.
Aldo Leopold is most known for his essays published after his death in 1948. The collection of essays together called “A Sand County Almanac” is a must read for anyone interested in conservation. To me, Aldo is the father of modern ecology. He had a strong background in wildlife and forestry management, but it is his conviction of the “land ethic” that rings ever strong today.
He believed, as do I, that we (humans) are part of the ecological community and not separate. If we could see that, he believed “we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
We toured his farm and got to go inside the shack where he and his family would stay from time to time. It was this shack and surrounding landscape that helped to inspire many of his writings.
The famous shack is simple and rustic. It has bunkbeds and a fireplace with an adjacent table and chairs. He bought the land as a foreclosure and the shack was mentioned as being used as a chicken coop before his alterations.
It is small and dark which provides lots of encouragement to spend more time outside as I’m sure he did. A short walk away in one direction is the Wisconsin River and a sandy river bottom white oak savanna that is under restoration. In a different direction are oaks and pine trees that Aldo and his family planted by hand after they bought the property.
In total, around his shack there are now around 6,000 acres in conservation with a large portion of those, like Aldo, coming from private landowners.
This trip had always been on my bucket list. To see the humble hideaway of a man so revered in conservation was inspiring. His essays are short, poetic, and still relevant today.