Thursday, September 10, 2009

Aldo Leopold Legacy

"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." Aldo Leopold
Until Dick brought home a copy of A Sandhill County Almanac, I had never heard of Aldo Leopold. Now I see his thoughts and quotes so many places. He is often regarded as the father of conservation and land ethics. He was instrumental in developing the proposal to manage the Gila National Forest as a wilderness area, the first such designation, in 1924. After a transfer to Wisconsin, he continued to pursue difficult questions about how people change land and how people might be encouraged to practice conservation rather than exploiting the wealth of the land. He worked as an educator, philosopher, ecologist and wilderness advocate.

In 1935 he purchased a "worn out" farm on the Wisconsin river. He and his family lived his philosophy, planting thousands of pine trees, wildflowers and other plants while living in the "shack", a former chicken coop. From this refuge he wrote much of A Sand County Almanac. When we planned our trip to Wisconsin, we kept looking for Sand County on the map, and only when we arrived did we realize that Sand County was fictitious, referring to the sand in which farmers try to raise their crops. Leopold died in 1948 of a heart attack while fighting a fire, before his work was actually published. As we walked from the shack to the river, I felt that Leopold would have been pleased with the results of his labors, so many years ago. The river flows serenely and cleanly.
The prairie grasses and wildflowers flourish.
Small Leopard frogs jumped from river to the shoreline grasses as we walked along the sandy edges.
A Great Blue Heron had danced on the sand.
Now the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center has been constructed to foster his Land Ethic. True to his spirit, it is constructed to be completely in harmony with the environment, and won the Platinum LEED ® Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2007. Part of that certification requires that materials be obtained within 500 miles of the building. They did even better, using many of the pines Leopold himself planted, thinning the forest while making more space for other trees to grow. The solar panels on the roof generate all the electricity used by the Foundation, and selling any excess back to the local power company. Their solar water heater on the roof heats water to 200 degrees. When the weather is nice, as it has been all this week, they actually open the windows, and the system shuts down automatically. No need to heat or cool the outside! We met a young architect while walking around, who came to admire this structure, and we told him that Bernheim Forest's visitor center had also won the Leeds award as well.
Since the Leopold Center is on a road officially designated as "rustic" by the state of Wisconsin, we drove through miles of farm country early in the morning to reach it. Several family groups of Sandhill Cranes rewarded us for taking the road less traveled.
Unlike the birds I've seen in spring, however, these Cranes were all perfectly silent. Maybe they have said everything that matters for now.

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