I am in a wonderful book club, one that deserves better from me. We are now reading “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold, and I woke up early this morning to catch up. It’s a sad fact that I haven’t finished a book club book in more than a year, and so far this one isn’t likely to be an exception. However, I am (again) thankful to my clubmates for giving me a reason to read something wonderful, however sluggishly I’m doing it.
I want to share a few things I’ve circled so far.
Reflecting upon the eagerness of a trout to take the bait, and of a fisherman to cast it: How like fish we are: ready, nay eager, to seize upon whatever new thing some wind of circumstance shakes down upon the river to time! And how we rue our haste … Even so, I think there is some virtue in eagerness, whether its object prove true or false. How utterly dull would be a wholly prudent man, or trout, or world!
Reflecting on the irony of killing off wolves to protect the deer, which in turn means large swaths of defoliation: Too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run.
And this one needs no set-up: … all conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.
Aldo’s prose strikes me as old-fashioned in a wonderful way (he died in 1948 and the first of these essays were published a year later). It has the effect of being very much of its time, and also respectful of its topic. The natural world — be it a pristine lagoon in the Delta of the Colorado or bird poop on a Wisconsin farm — is elevated through a more formal (to our modern ears) language, and I’m transported to a more slow-moving moment in the history of language and syntax.
Change came more gradually then, but Aldo’s writings explain that it was sudden in the greater context of the natural world.
* * *
I won’t belabor the point about Wisconsin’s pokey springs. They put us through an annual agony. I’ll just fast-forward to the fact that the temperature went above 80 (!) yesterday, a stunning development in May for these parts. Between errands, I took my car through Estabrook Park. Trees were coming into leaf (as opposed to promising it for weeks) and some of them were in bloom (as opposed to bud). As the road curved gently through this new green and pink and white, and as I felt the sensation, for the first time in six months, of an open window, my eyes teared up. This is a little embarrassing to admit.
How must it have felt, then, for Aldo Leopold to take his canoe down a wild river in the 1930s, when “wild” meant something more true to its meaning?
I’ve been thinking about that all morning and can’t shake the feeling of loss.