Title: defining Country, in A Taste for Country


Background | Information | Essay | Argument | Conclusion | Lesson


Aldo Leopold has been called a prophet of wilderness. He was a biologist, who after he graduated from the Yale School of Forestry, came to understand the ecological dimensions of the inherent relationship among wild game, soil and vegetation.

Author of A Sand County Almanac, and Round River.


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The difference between what is apparent and that which is often not recognized is the principle theme used by Leopold to convey his deeply held conviction that life, natural areas and ecological services must be much better and more widely understood.

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net primary productivity is the measure of the amount of surplus energy converted into matter by living things once their own respiratory needs are met.

wilderness is a designation legally in the US under the Wilderness Act of 1964 of substantial acreage where human occupation is curtailed and civilized intrusions are minimized.

landscape, is an old Dutch word referring to the terrain but especially the expanse of topography that one may view of an area. Often that area may or may not have been in some manner transformed by human occupation.

land as envisioned by Leopold is an organism, not unlike our selves an composite of landscape features that he characterized as partnerships and piracies.

Commons | Land System | Utilitarian values

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1887, born and raised in Burlington, Iowa.

1908, graduated from Yale Forestry School.

1915, Ecological Society of America est,

1916, while in the Forest Service went to New Mexico,

1924, Gila National Forest designated as a wilderness,

1933, Prof. of Game Management at U. of Wisconsin.

1944, manuscript of "Thinking Like a Mountain."

1948, died in Madison, Wisconsin,

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Aldo Leopold was a virtually unknown wildlife biologist whose deeply disturbing criticisms of conservation still haunt current ideals for preserving diversity and protecting habitat fifty years after his first writing. He felt that “good intentions” were not sufficient to deal with the mounting problems of worn out land, polluted water, overgrazed pasturage, and deforested watershed. All of these problems of the land were biotic indicators of disrupted ecosystems.

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The scientific need for less disturbed ecological systems makes wilderness important as a place to compare natural areas to one another in terms of net primary productivity; that is the efficiency of turning sunlight into living tissue, or biomass:

land type Desert Grassland Corn field Coastal marsh
Kilo calories per meter squared per annum = kcal/m2/yr
See: productivity

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"In wildness is the preservation of the world."

Thoreau once said that about the necessity of forests reserved around towns, or countryside protected against mills and dams. For Leopold, like Thoreau,"country" had a deeper and more subtle meaning than the concept may now imply by just the imagery of rolling hills, creeks, woodlands, fields and streams. "Country" really embodies the not so obvious implications of any terrain hidden from our modern view of landscape architecture.

For most people the word country evokes and image of landscape features that are synonymous with land. But taking our lead from Leopold you can become aware that we are not only losing countryside, we may be losing our taste for interpreting our surroundings, because we have lost some of the vocabulary that informs people about what they see.

American poet, Richard Wilbur argues that we no longer use terms such as dell, or swale, or knoll to indicate the precise descriptive features such words once depicted for rural peoples, because we are losing touch with the subtle fabric of both the terrain and the terms that describe once important features of the countryside. When farmers, hunters or trappers needed a specific vocabulary to distinguish a "glen," from a "hollow," they used a more robustly descriptive language than do we today. Hopefully the loss of words does not also suggest a loss of meaning, but for the poet Wilbur and the biologist Leopold, their fear was that we, as an urban people, were becoming insensitive to what country really needs. For country to thrive and sustain a variety of habitats, it must possess a range of species and a vibrant genetic pool from which the next vigorous generation of wildness may emerge to renourish an ailing biological community.

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Leopold contends that we should look closely at implements:

Awareness --attitude-- behavior, and action must all mutually support our actual symbiosis with the land organism --- the biotic community and the circuit of water, soils, air and energy that are the functional source of our economic livelihood and social well-being.

He proposes a new ethics as a further limitation on people’s actions, they are not free to pursue their own ends in reckless disregard for the integrity of nature and the human rights of their neighbors.

We are the recipients of the land’s fruitful bounty --Country is the term that stands for the landscapes complexity-- and thus, we have a caretaker’s duty to properly steward the landscape because it harbors the actual means of our survival as a whole species, not merely as a confident consumer, or allegedly dominant species.

Aldo Leopold’s, “A Taste for Country,” pp. 177-226.

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"Nourish the landscape and watershed, or perish."

Commons | Land System | Utilitarian values


The world provides us with clues, if we can interpret them, voices if we can hear them, and testimony if we can listen to it about who we are, where we are from, and how we may yet arrive at where we wish to go. The burden is on us to pay attention to the cues and act wisely on what wildlife, terrain, and climate are showing us.

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Title | Background | Information | Essay | Argument | Conclusion | Lesson