As dusk enveloped us, Sandhill Cranes winged over in groups of three or four, heading for their overnight roosting sites. We were at the Aldo Leopold Foundation near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Conservation philosophers often cite three authors who framed the modern environmental movement. Perhaps Thoreau’s WALDEN is most famous. Somewhat later, John Muir penned the value of wilderness and national parks. More recently Aldo Leopold’s 1949 book, A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC, articulated society’s need to embrace a land ethic.

Extinction of Species

During Leopold’s life waterfowl, Passenger Pigeons, Sandhill Cranes, and many other birds declined in number under widespread habitat destruction and market hunting. The pigeon became extinct, and Leopold believed Sandhill Cranes would soon follow.

Happily, thanks to protection, education, and habitat improvement thousands of cranes now gather each fall near the Leopold Center on their way south. We had the good fortune to spot and hear many.

Foundation of Personal and Professional Life

In the winter of 1971 Rich worked as an elementary school custodian. “If I hustled and got the restrooms cleaned and the halls swept, I could take a short break in the janitor’s closet. There, surrounded by mops and brooms I read WALDEN and SAND COUNTY.  They framed my personal and professional life,” he said.

Leopold was one of the first scientists to encourage making degraded land healthier through ecological restoration. His words inspired us to devote 40 years restoring prairies in Kansas and Iowa. Our Winding Pathways yard of waving wildflowers and tall grasses are a living tribute to Aldo and Estella Leopold.

A Walk into the Past Connects Us to the Present

Recently, Leopold Foundation Fellow Eudora Miao led us down a narrow path between tall pines to a former chicken house. In the 1930s the Leopold Family converted it to  their weekend getaway cabin and called it simply, “The Shack.” Starting in 1935 they planted thousands of pines and acres of prairie on their eroded and barren land. It was here that Aldo penned words that have inspired people for the past 70 years.

The Foundation strives to inspire an ethical relationship between people and nature through Leopold’s legacy.  

 We were thrilled to visit the Foundation, tour their amazingly energy-efficient headquarters, visit The Shack, and interact with staff. Put SAND COUNTY ALMANAC on your reading list and visit the Foundation. It’s about ten miles from downtown Baraboo, Wisconsin, and about an hour’s drive north of Madison.

For information visit The Aldo Leopold Foundation

Photos (mn) by Mark Norlander.

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