In Part I we also begin to learn the larger lesson that we are
but a tiny piece of the “the land organism.” Leopold
Student Study Guide for Part I of
comes across as humble and self-effacing, rather than as a
A Sand County Almanac
What emotions do the Part I essays evoke?
I have only typed my notes through page 96, but these
might help familiarize you with some of the terms and
Leopold has a subtle sense of humor. List examples.
concepts in the book. Additions, corrections and
Time, in Part I, is in terms of the months of the year=time
on a human scale. This changes in Part 2.
Are the Part I essays fables (fable=”a moral tale with
animals as characters”) or parables that use human
Leopold was not a "tree-hugger." He advocated restraint
terms, emotions, motives, characteristics to teach us
more than preservation. He understood that in order to
about nature? Analogy is said to be the primary way we
survive, all living things change their environment. He was
learn; by drawing parallels with what we already know.
a forester who enjoyed hunting and fishing and cutting
trees for firewood (before the chainsaw was invented!). Like
What sort of person does Leopold seem to be? What gives
his father, he loved camping, canoeing and backpacking.
He witnessed the world changing from one big wilderness with a few people to one big mass of humanity with a few
What is a metaphor? Give examples of Leopold’s use of
metaphor. Leopold knew that metaphor is not the normal
There are no more profound essays about the natural
language of a scientist (he was adept at writing both
world than these. They glow with the simple joys of
styles). Why did Leopold use so many metaphors in this
tracking a field mouse, watching the woodcock's mating
book? Leopold was a fan of the German writer Goethe,
dance, and gaining courage from tall pines in December.
who said “all things are metaphors.” What do you think
We get to share the thrill he felt when he saw his first
Sandhill cranes and we experience his sense of wonder. But
Why does he use so many anthropomorphic metaphors?
there is sadness here also, as he witnessed more and more
of his beloved wild places and "wildlings" disappearing.
p.48 “we grieve only what we know first hand.” Like friends
Leopold’s skills as a writer, forester, ecologist, scientist,
or pets, we come to know the personalities of different
philosopher and patient observer are unequalled. His
species. He tells us how he “came to knowSilphium,” an
simple words, chosen with the artistry of a poet, help us
amazing flower somewhat like a sunflower. What species
experience his musings as if we were there beside him,
observing the world at daybreak. But he does more than
What morals is he discussing? What if there were no
help us see the world with fresh, observant eyes, he helps
morals in the tale? Would we be less likely to identify
us appreciate its complexity and its many values that
with it; to learn from it? Is this why he uses so many
remain “as yet, uncaptured by language.”
Many lament that Leopold did not live to write more.
Notice the titles and ask yourself why he chose these. Some,
Others have asked, "What more do we need?"
like “January Thaw” are easy to understand, but others,
such as “GOOD Oak” are more subtle. Why do you think
ix. Leopold writes, “Perhaps such a shift of values can be
he called it a “good” oak? Why “Great Possessions”? (this
achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame and
was Leopold’s favorite essay and at one time his chosen
confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free.” Thus
we learn that his goal in writing the book is to bring
about a shift in values. Do you agree that such a shift is
Questions on specific essays in Part I
1st 3 paragraphs p.6. Spiritual dangers in not owning a
Part I. “Shack sketches” Leopold calls them.
farm. Why are these spiritual dangers? What does it
matter if we don’t know where breakfast or heat comes
General Questions on Part I
What adjectives would you use to describe Part I?
3rd paragraph, p.7 “thus it lived to garner eighty years of
June sun. It is this sunlight that is now being
One lesson in Part I is humility. A sense of wonder in the
released…to warm my shack.” P. 8 lightning put an end
little things. He is helping us to see, not only in the sense
to “wood-making” by the oak. These are basic lessons of
of becoming more observant of the life around us, but also
ecology and survival any farm kid would know, but
more observant of human nature. We learn about human
nature through the actions of mice, grebes, plovers and
dogs. We learn that small things like mice, Draba and
p. 9. Read the two paragraphs “We mourned…” and “We let
chickadees, play important roles in ecosystems. Don’t let
the dead veteran…” out loud. What points does he want
these “cute” little essays fool you—there is considerable
us to come away with from these two paragraphs?
“Fragrant little chips of history spewed from the
saw…piles of sawdust were somethingmore than wood;
“they were the integrated transect of a century…decade
Should we follow our own such sentimental promptings
by decade, into the chronology of a lifetime, written in
about the natural world? Some argue that if resource
concentric annual rings of good oak.” Make oak human-
managers and biologists do so, they will interpret
like, draws larger lessons from a simple pile of sawdust.
everything just through human eyes and experience.
Talks about “chronology.” This word or concept comes up
Others claim that such a lack of emotion transforms
again and again throughout the book. Why does he
resource managers into automatons who would simply
emphasize this? Why does he feel it is important for
document the disappearance of a species without doing
anything about their decline. What are the pros and cons
p.10 “alphabetical conservation” refers to the many
of such sentimentality? Should resource managers be
agencies of the New Deal in the 1930s, such as the CCC
discouraged from being passionate about the resources
(Civil Conservation Corps) and the WPA (Works Progress
Administration) and Soil Conservation Service (SCS).
P.23 The last paragraph before “April” starts “By this
p.11 “while one definition of goodness [was written] in the
international commerce of geese, … A barter of food for
law books, fires were writing quite another one on the
light, the whole continent receives as net profit a wild
face of the land.” Fires do not obey human laws and
poem dropped from murky skies upon the muds of
because we did not have active forestry to cut out dead
March.” This is a wonderful lesson in ecology in one
wood and/or thin the trees, fires would “clean” it for us.
beautiful paragraph. What is the lesson? What do you
think of this as a way to teach ecology?
p.12 Top. Through many extinctions and other
environmental calamities, we have “the usual annual ring
“April”. P.25 A board is a kind of literature? A farm is a
of oak.” What effect does this have? What is Leopold’s
library? Why these metaphors? Why does he use
opinion of human activities during this period? What
metaphors that refer to reading and books?
point is he trying to get across—to what end?
“Draba” p.26. Shortest of the essays, some of Leopold’s
p. 13 “game of wheating land to death” and “sand-blow had
friends felt it should be omitted. Should this one have
origin in over-wheating.” Wheat is an annual crop, hard
been omitted as they suggested? Is there an ecological
on soil; it doesn’t hold soil like native perennial grasses.
message of any importance here? Photo of this
p.15 “1860’s when thousands died to settle the question: Is
the man-man community lightly to be dismembered?”
What war is he alluding to? Leopold refers to our culture
as the “man-man community” to highlight that humans are NOT the ONLY community. Then he draws a parallel
with man-land community and essentially asks if that is
p. 15 bottom of page. John Muir wanted to buy his home
farm to make it a sanctuary for the wildflowers that had
“gladdened his youth.” Is nature important to aesthetics,
joy, even mental health? How would Leopold answer this question? How would you answer it?
P17 bottom. Read out loud in discussion session: “These
“Sky Dance” p.30. Imagine this essay in the form of a
things I ponder…” The cycle is completed and “will come
scientific article. How would it be different? How would
back to me again, perhaps as red apples…” or a squirrel
it be the same? Would one be “better” than the other?
who “for reasons unknown to himself, is bent on planting
For photos of the woodcock, recording of his song and a
acorns.” What point is Leopold trying to make here?
video of the Sky Dance (I can’t open it, but perhaps some
of you can) see http://www.junglewalk.com/frames.asp. Search for woodcock.
“The Geese Return” “Great Possessions” p. 41 This was Leopold’s favorite of
p.20. “sad, widower geese.” “The seasoned ornithologist
the essays and his choice of title for the book. The essay
knows, however, that such subjective interpretation of
depends on him as a common man, a phenologist (look up
bird behavior is risky. I long tried to keep an open mind
PHENOLOGY on the web), lover of land, a man in search
on the question…” continue through “It is not often that
of harmony and connection with the natural world. “My
cold-potato mathematics thus confirms the sentimental
emblems of sovereignty, a coffee pot and notebook.” What
promptings of the bird-lover.” Explain how Leopold and
his students discerned that these really were bereaved
geese. Is Leopold unprofessional when he says “He felt
p. 43 top. How many birds can you recognize just by their
free to grieve with the lone honkers?”
calls? How many can you recognize by sight?
Biology and resource management students refer to the
p.43 middle. His dog plays role of ignorant humans who
attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman
think “any illiterate bundle of feathers can make a noise
creatures or things as “anthropomorphizing.” Literature
in a tree.” It’s funny, but it is a quick and gentle lesson.
students, on the other hand, call it “personification.” Why
We end up looking down on the ignorant dog (and other
species) that do not appreciate the song. Leopold
anthropomorphizing about the objects of their study?
preaches indirectly, which is very effective. How would
the reader feel if he said “some people think any illiterate
“Prairie Birthday” p. 44. Silphium looks like a tall yellow
daisy. It’s very tall, over 6 feet, and there are many
species in the genus. Leopold kept detailed phenology
records of local species, weather, bloom dates, etc. Have you ever kept track of such things over several years, such
as the first robin you notice each year, the first blooming
fireweed, the last Sandhill crane… What, if any, value do such records have?
“Smoky Gold” note that there is a big tamarack on the
east end of the UAF botanical gardens that is a dramatic
Is the study of natural history of any use in today’s world?
p.82 “whoever coined the name [candle] had subtlety in his
p. 62 Red Lanterns. Is it possible that hunting makes
one more observant than hiking? Discuss.
p.83 “that dark laboratory we call the soil.” Why refer to it
Pg.67. Axe in Hand. What biases do you have in trees and
as a “dark laboratory?” Is this accurate?
p.84 Bottom. Shade is generally an “adversity” for pines,
Pg. 68. Leopold says that the view from treetops helps
but it does help avoid weevil damage. If you wanted to
determine which tree, if any, needs felling “for the good of
grow pines, would you plant them in sun or shade? Do
the land.” How could felling a tree be good for the land?
most of the crops we grow prefer sun or shade? What are
His definition of conservationist—“one who is humbly aware
that we are writing our signature on the face of the land.”
p. 85 “marriageable age” of pines. Jack pines bloom and
How many of us are aware of this? If we were, would it
bear cones in a year or two, while others require 10 to 20
make a difference in how we treated nature?
years. What does this mean for someone who wants to
p. 69 “pine will live for a century; the birch half that.” How
grow these different species? Which pine would you
much do trees differ in life spans? How might this affect
your definition of what an “old growth” tree is?
p.86 “young white pines grow best in the absence of their
p. 71 Aspen will sprout from the stump. How many trees
parents.” Why would that be? What does this tell you
can do this? What is it called? What are the advantages
about regenerating white pines? What will they need?
p. 71-72. Habitat improvement ideas. Each animal clearly
The dominant conifer in Fairbanks is spruce. What is the
has ‘biases’ also. What happens when a farmer cleans out
difference between pine and spruce? It bothers me when
p.73. A Mighty Fortress. Why refer to a host of diseased
p.87 “at such times I feel a curious transfusion of courage.”
trees as a “mighty fortress?” A fortress protects
Have you ever felt a “transfusion of courage” from trees?
from other wild species or natural places? Is this an
He refers to “a seed stock of coons.” What does this mean?
important benefit of natural areas? Studies of hospital
How does this relate to sustained yield?
patients find that those with a view of natural areas
recover faster than those with a view of buildings and
How many species of plants and animals are listed in this
traffic. Likewise, students with views of trees appear to
chapter? Try writing an essay with this many species and
get higher grades. Are these just coincidences? To what
have it sound more like a story than a list.
p.77. “Dead trees are transmuted into living animals and
A friend recently told me that he is not worried about polar
vice versa.” A profound and obvious truth, yet how many
bears going extinct because, “We can live without polar
Americans really believe it? Would we behave any
p.88 Banded birds. China has few songbirds; most are
p.77 He mentions the prothonotary warbler. Have you seen
trapped in nets for food. My Chinese friends marvel at
one? Did you look it up to see what it looks like? Do you
the number of birds here and that people feed them, but
own a field guide to birds? What field guides (such as
guides to flowers, tracks, rocks, plants, etc) do you own—or would you like to own? Do you know the common
Why so many references to “time” and “history” and nature
mammals, birds, butterflies, animal tracks, plants and
as a “history book?” What difference does the historical
rocks of your area? Is it important to know these?
perspective make? Why does he feel this is important for
What ecological lessons does he give in Part I that call for
changes in standard management practice? To what
extent have these changes occurred? Was he right about the need for change?
If you had to name the theme of Part I, what would it be?
From the International Crane Foundation:
What do you think is the overall effect of Part 1 on most
Cranes are a family of birds that have long been
readers? What accounts for this effect? What effect did it
revered by people living near them. In Japan, the cranes
are honored as symbols of long life and a happy marriage.
In Viet Nam, cranes are believed to carry the souls of the
Part II. SKETCHES HERE AND THERE:
dead to heaven. In North America, Africa, and Australia,
A Vision Quest?
native inhabitants have incorporated the crane's graceful
Leopold’s first potential publishers did not like Parts 2 and
movements into their own dances and regard cranes as
3— “no one wants to read stuff like that;” they wanted
him to write more essays like those in Part 1. What
Cranes have inhabited this earth for the last 34 to 50
would we have lost had he listened to them? Which parts
million years. Although cranes enjoy a widespread
existence (they live on five of the seven continents), many
What changes are evident in the first 3 paragraphs on page
populations are declining due to habitat loss and
95 compared to all the essays in Part I? What changes in
unregulated hunting. Seven of the species are currently
time, subject, voice, tone, word choice, verb tense, etc. can
designated as endangered and four others have been
you detect? What effect do these have on the reader? How
would the effect differ if Part I were omitted?
The ICF works worldwide to conserve cranes and the
wetland and grasslands communities on which they
In Part 2, Leopold stuns us awake with a grand sweep of
millennia, images of ice (very different from mice and
oaks), and words like “cold” and “elegy.” He changes from
present tense to past tense, from local to regional, from
The Eocene epoch is part of the Tertiary Period in the
the specific to more general, from first person to first
Cenozoic Era, and lasted from about 54 to 38 million
person plural (we, our, you), from descriptive essays to
years ago (mya). The oldest known fossils of most of the
increasingly prescriptive (what is the difference?). In
modern orders of mammals appear in a brief period
doing so, he helps us follow his own progression from
during the Early Eocene and all were small, under 10 kg.
observation and description to a need to change our
p.96 “values as yet uncaptured by language.” What is he
referring to? In the Hindu religion, the spirit of creation
For recordings of the wonderful trumpeting call of the
is said to be something that “cannot be captured by
Sandhill crane, search for the species on
language.” Is Leopold referring to a spiritual value?
Leopold refers to the crane as “wildness incarnate” and a
“symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of
In his introduction to this edition (page xxvii), Robert Finch
millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs
calls Part II a “sojourn in a wilderness of loss, ignorance
of birds and men.” How could the great sweep of
and self-education” (pg. xxviii) “What [Leopold] sees as
necessary to full understanding of who and where we are
—The following paragraph is from The Wilderness Society’s
in the universe—a reunification of poetry and science.”
Web Page, about Leopold’s most famous essay and the
“Becoming whole through his understanding of and
last one in the book: “The Land Ethic”
relationship with his natural surroundings.”
Why seek a “reunification of poetry and science?” How
A Guiding Light Still Burning Bright from The
could this help solve environmental problems?
Wilderness Society web site, http://www.wilderness.org
p. 95 Marshland Elegy
“In 1949, America was introduced to A Sand County
According to Merriam Webster, an elegy is 1) a: song or
Almanac, a remarkable book that would forever change
poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one
the way many of us think about the land. In 1948, its
who is dead b : something (as a speech) resembling such
author, Aldo Leopold, a professor of wildlife management
a song or poem; 2) a : a pensive or reflective poem that is
at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a founder
of The Wilderness Society, died. Fifty years later, The
Wilderness Society honors the man and his book.
Only 25 breeding pairs of Sandhill cranes were left in
In response to the relentless destruction of the landscape, A
Wisconsin when Leopold wrote this. Their recovery did
Sand County Almanac redefined the relationship between
not begin in earnest until the 1970s, and today thousands
humankind and the Earth. It described a groundbreaking
of cranes pass through the state. Cranes as a group,
concept Leopold called a land ethic. This notion has
inspired millions to protect our environment, and
Sandhill cranes are members of the oldest family of birds
countless more to live more lightly on the land.
still in existence—they date back to the Eocene. Leopold
The Wilderness Society has a special relationship with
was aware of this. How does he use this fact in the essay?
Leopold; he was a founder and the first president.
Cranes have strong symbolic meaning in many cultures.
Structure of the book as a whole: In his essay, “Anatomy of a Classic,” John Tallmadge says that all of the essays in the book point to the same
core truth, but they move from the concrete (but symbolic) in Part I, to the general/regional in Part II, and
finally to the abstract and philosophical in Part III. Do you agree that all the essays point to the “same core truth?” Is so, what is this truth?
Comparison of the Three Parts of A Sand County Almanac “Sand County Almanac” “Sketches Here and There” “The Upshot” The author Members of community Subjects
-Ghosts of the passenger pigeons.Descriptive, Prescriptive, judgmental Description
“overgrazing” “misuse” “mindless
* For an excellent discussion of how the book was written, see “The Making of A Sand County Almanac” by Dennis
Ribbens in Companion to A Sand County Almanac, J. Baird Callicott, Editor, p. 91-109. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 1987.
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