It’s a concern that LOA’s staff appeared to anticipate in the design of this new book, which forgoes the signature black LOA dust jacket – its in-house equivalent of a sensible shoe – in favor of a cover brightened by a photograph of ducks flying across an azure lake. A red, white, and blue ribbon underlines Leopold’s name on the cover – a not-so-subtle reminder that Leopold’s brand of patriotism had a love of the North American landscape at its center.
Born in Burlington, Iowa in 1887, Leopold expressed an early and prescient concern about the implications of development on the national ecology. As one of the first agents for the fledgling US Forest Service, he served in the Southwest, where he joined in the widespread slaughter of wolves that were considered pests. But after shooting into a wolf pack and killing the mother of the den, Leopold had an epiphany, concluding that such ham-fisted efforts to shape the natural world to man’s immediate needs would reap disastrous consequences. That change of heart, documented in a chapter of the “A Sand County Almanac” called “Thinking Like A Mountain,” has a distinctly mystical air: “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.... I was young, then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the deer nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”
Leopold’s use of natural observation to yield cosmic insight places him in the transcendental tradition of Thoreau, a comparison deepened by the thematic similarities between “A Sand County Almanac” and “Walden.” Like Thoreau’s famous narrative, "A Sand County Almanac” organizes its first chapters around four seasons in a wooded landscape, although Leopold, a trained scientist, places more emphasis on a specific program of conservation.