A Thing is Right


I’m in the process of reading Aldo Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac. It was published in 1949, the year after my birth. This book is considered by many to be second in stature only to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in American nature writing. No sentimental naturalist, Leopold was a graduate of Yale Forestry School; yet his writing reads as the poetry of Yeats or Dickenson.

Although 70 years old, his book reads as important as it did when first released. In truth, it reads far more important today. We live in a period where greed unabashedly towers over nature and beauty and the lust to build and profit laughs at the destruction of our planet. One of Leopold’s most important statements says – “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Can we believe, can we trust that this concept is how we live and are governed in this country?

Does it matter how we choose to live our individual lives? Does it matter that we fill our waste dumps with millions of tons of fast-food wrappers and plastic water bottles. When it’s to troublesome to use the trash container, do we use the planet as our trash bin? Are we foolish to think that we can be satisfied in having what we need and still take care of where we live? Will we ever stop wanting more, simply because we want more?

Some months back I saw a gigantic pickup truck that had in four inch letters on the back window. It said, “Proudly burning the gas your hybrid is saving.” I want someone to explain to me what kind of person believes this. Do we feel so entitled to waste, simply because we think we can afford it?

What inspired me to write this tirade was a quote from Leopold. “I have read many definitions of a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land. Signatures of course differ, whether written with axe or pen, and this is how it should be.”

So it seems we each have to decide how our signatures will look. Few of us chop wood these days and yet, we still make decisions each day on what to save, what to destroy and how comfortable are we with the personal signature that we leave behind.

Go Well, David