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Über dieses Buch

More than a biography, this articulate volume is a guide to the intellectual growth of conservationist Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) and an inspirational resource for anyone pondering the relationships between people and the land.



Introduction : Launching Out

Aldo Leopold landed in Casas Grandes, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, three days before Christmas 1937, just two and half weeks shy of his fifty-first birthday. The flight, his first ever, had taken him over winding streams and arroyos, rocky hills covered with twisted oaks and junipers, and canyons abounding with white-tailed deer and wild turkeys. It brought him into a region once inhabited by great thirteenth-through fifteenth-century Mexican civilizations and several even older ones. Within a short distance of the modern-day Hotel Regis, boasting the local distinction of flushing bathroom fixtures, lay a broad labyrinth of smooth-walled rooms of pink clay, ruins of the sophisticated city of the ancient Pacquime people. Leopold, staying in town for the night, took a black-and-white photograph, documenting that, at least in this moment in the 1930s Casas Grandes, no priests, traders, artisans, or farmers ambled by as in centuries past; only a few men with cowboy hats and a woman in a long, dark coat picked their way along the muddy main street after a recent snowy rain. The throbbing drums and tinkling copper bells of former Mesoamerican religious rituals no longer sounded under the clouded sky. But a horse pulling a wooden buckboard over the rutted road rattled by the flat white fronts of the local grocery store, barbershop, and two cantinas.
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 1. Seed Plots

By 1909—the start of Aldo Leopold’s professional career—the United States had traveled far on a journey toward material prosperity within its continent of natural bounty. The New World was a cornucopia of land products. Already it had fed industrial revolutions in western Europe and in America, helping to transform the world. Its natural wealth also had stimulated the emergence of a new, multiethnic civilization—a capitalist industrial one characterized by individualism, faith in science and technology, democracy, and economic growth. Most Americans were engaged in a hopeful quest for progress, and they were working hard at it, in a pulsing combination of people, land, and dreams. Fresh out of forestry school and assigned to America’s southwestern frontier, Leopold was caught up in the exciting bustle of the times, though doubts would soon arise in his mind about where the country was heading.
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 2. Written on the Hills

Leopold returned to the Forest Service in September 1914 after his recuperative leave of absence, which had stretched well over a year. Still weak from his illness, he was assigned to paperwork in the Albuquerque Office of Grazing, where he served as assistant to the district supervisor. The administrative position gave him technical knowledge of range management matters and brought to his focused attention the question of how to determine a range’s “carrying capacity” — the number of livestock a given grazing area could support without that degrading. This question would set in motion in Leopold’s mind a cascade of other questions about interconnections between soils and waters, as well as plants and animals, which he would pursue back out in the field and, with remarkable results, over the course of his career.
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 3. The Middle Border

As Leopold was piecing together the erosion story in the Southwest and beginning his professional game protection work—between 1914 and the mid-1920s—the world was changing rapidly around him. Millions died in the Great War and from an influenza pandemic, and political boundaries in Europe were redrawn. On the American plains farmers plowed millions of acres of land, transforming much of the vast, fertile American prairie. In the fall of 1917, 42,170,000 acres were planted in wheat, 1 million more than in any preceding year and 7 million more than the preceding five-year average. Meanwhile, agricultural prices fluctuated widely. Wheat, corn, and livestock prices nearly doubled between 1914 and 1919, only to drop precipitously after the war. As prices fell, hundreds of thousands of struggling farmers lost their farms—450,000 farmers in 1920 and 1921 alone went bankrupt. By 1920 more than half the land area of the United States was taken up by farms, yet rural people increasingly were moving into cities—by that year half the country’s roughly 100 million people were urban dwellers. Meanwhile, millions of automobiles were rolling off assembly lines, and to carry these cars, hundreds of thousands of miles of public roads were transecting the country. Trade unions formed and fractured, labor riots erupted, and the population became increasingly diverse in ethnic background as nearly 3 million immigrants entered the country between 1914 and 1920. For many it became ever harder to make sense of the world. The 1914 comments of Walter Lippman, essayist and editor of the New Republic, seemed even more apt after the war: “We are unsettled to the very roots of our being.” A social radical, John Reed, summed up the postwar times similarly, from the view of a man turning thirty:
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 4. Interpreting Pharaoh’s Dream

By 1931, two years after the stock market crash, millions of Americans were jobless, homeless, and destitute. “Hoovervilles” arose on the edges of large cities — crude shelters built of packing crates, cardboard, and old metal—while lines of hungry men waited for soup and bread. Families dug through garbage dumps in St. Louis and sought table scraps outside Chicago’s restaurants. In New York City hundreds suffering from malnutrition or starvation were admitted to hospitals. Across the country thousands of people were on the move, migrating in quest of relief or for a simple sense of motion.
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 5. An American System

By 1933, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office as president and initiated the relief programs of his dizzying first 100 days, the American home-building dream had gone in reverse. Home foreclosures were taking place at the rate of more than a thousand per day. New farm technology made farming more efficient and sent countless unneeded agricultural workers drifting into cities while at the same time the amount of land in farms rose to more than a billion acres, covering more than half the land area of the continental United States. With crop production high and crop prices low, farm bankruptcies increased, also pushing many rural dwellers out of their homes. More than 5 percent of the nation’s farms were subject to forced sales in 1933 — a national high.
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 6. A Common Concept of Land

Conservation, to Leopold’s mind, was about the relationship between human thoughts and actions and their effects on the land. A civilization functioning in concert with the land’s conservation, he believed, would be not only good for land but also more productive of rich human lives, which were interwoven with it. To best integrate human ways with nature’s, however, would first require understanding how the parts of the land — its soils, waters, plants, and animals — interacted to sustain life. Nature was vastly complex. Understanding its workings was much easier said than done.
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 7. Ecological Poetry

In conjunction with his June 1939 talk, “A Biotic View of Land,” before the joint meeting of the Ecological Society of America and the Society of American Foresters, Leopold sent a copy of the address to a respected friend and frequent correspondent, P. S. Lovejoy, asking for a critique. Lovejoy, an Illinois native three years Leopold’s senior—once a fellow forester and for twelve years chief of the Michigan Conservation Department’s Game and Fur Division—wrote frequently about broad-reaching land-use issues. Like Leopold, Lovejoy had an ecological mind that was quick to see interconnections on the land. With a firm imagination, he used a quirky vernacular in his letters, which Leopold termed “Lovejoyiana” and which, for the uninitiated, sometimes required translation.
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 8. The Germ and the Juggernaut

Leopold composed his ringing descriptions of the great marsh, with its “sense of time…thick and heavy” and its noble cranes, “symbol of our untamable past,” in the form of a “Marshland Elegy. “ It was a sad song of past, present, and future loss. After tracking the effects of intensifying, machine-driven human land uses on the marsh, from first settlement to the late 1930s, Leopold offered a bleak prediction:
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 9. Wildlife and the New Man

For Leopold, by the late 1930s it had become a regular drumbeat: Conservation was not chiefly about restoring and protecting land. It was about improving people and transforming culture, rebuilding values from the ground up. It was about making “a new kind of people,” as he said in his letter to former student Douglas Wade; it was about “rebuilding Homo sapiens” and producing a “new kind of farmer, banker, voter, consumer, etc.,” as he phrased it for Morris Cooke. How could we change the ways we use land, Leopold asked, without “an internal change in our intellectual emphases, our loyalties, our affections, and our convictions”? How could we “improve the face of the land without improving ourselves”?
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 10. Knowing Nature

“Dawn on the Delta was whistled in by Gambel quail.…When the sun peeped over the Sierra Madre, it slanted across a hundred miles of lovely…wilderness rimmed by jagged peaks,” Leopold vividly recalled in his 1940s essay “The Green Lagoons.” The essay recounts the story of a “voyage of discovery” that Aldo and his brother Carl had taken twenty years earlier into the unknowns of the Colorado River delta at its confluence with the Gulf of California. A sketchy map shows the delta “bisected by a river”; in reality, however, “the river was nowhere and everywhere”; it twisted and meandered through “awesome jungles” and “lovely groves”—and so did the adventurers. Discovering the hazards of spearlike cachinilla plants; learning the hard way where to find potable water; and feeling, though never seeing, the presence of el tigre, the great jaguar, the two journeymen enjoyed all the more the land’s cornucopia of culinary rewards—feasts of roasted goose, mallard, quail, dove, and teal, fat and tender from feeding on mesquite, tornillo seeds, and wild melons. All along Aldo and Carl shared with the delta’s abundant wildlife “their evident delight in this milk-and-honey wilderness.” “Their festival mood became our mood,” Leopold recounted; “we all reveled in a common abundance and in each other’s well-being.”
Julianne Lutz Warren

Chapter 11. A New Kind of Conservation

By the time Leopold wrote “The Farmer as a Conservationist” and “A Biotic View of Land,” his important essays from 1939, he was ready to face again the question he had struggled with since 1913: what was conservation’s object? He was also ready to speak directly about land use in moral terms, a matter he had first broached in 1923.
Julianne Lutz Warren


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