Sawyer Shepherd's Blog

Book Review: A Sand County Almanac

Written by environmentalist Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac is one of the most elegant pieces of nature writing I have ever read. While only formally educated in forestry, Leopold displays a mastery of language in his stunning descriptions of outwardly simple experiences.

The novel is well-known in conservation circles for pioneering the idea of land ethic—the concept that the natural world can only be protected by instilling respect and a sense of responsibility for the land we live on.

Despite how superficially “boring” the subject matter may seem, you’ll find the lessons and meaning Leopold draws from his everyday experiences to be pleasingly insightful. I was doubtful I would enjoy the book before I read it myself, but it quickly found its way to my list of favorites.

Leopold masterfully imbues his charming writing with wisdom in a way few authors can. It’s the type of novel that will give you goosebumps!

If you are still not convinced of my glowing endorsement, I beg you to read the following excerpts:

Aldo goes fishing in the stream on his land, and grants the reader a piece of his wisdom,

How like fish we are: ready, nay eager, to seize upon whatever new thing some wind of circumstance shakes down upon the river of time! And how we rue our haste, finding the gilded morsel to contain a hook. 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!

Later, after catching three trout,

I shall now confess to you that none of those three trout had to be beheaded, or folded double, to fit their casket. What was big was not the trout, but the chance. What was full was not my creel, but my memory.

And perhaps my favorite quote of all time,

I only know that a good file, vigorously wielded, makes my shovel sing as it slices the mellow loam. I am told there is music in the sharp plane, the sharp chisel, and the sharp scalpel, but I hear it best in my shovel; it hums in my wrists as I plant a pine. I suspect that the fellow who tried so hard to strike one clear note upon the harp of time chose too difficult an instrument.

I cannot give enough praise to A Sand County Almanac. You’ll find Aldo Leopold skillfully blends fine prose with educated insights (captivating concepts on their own) in a way incomparable to anything else I’ve read. I highly recommend reading it.