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Aldo Leopold: Hiker, Hunter, Writer, and Conservationist for Our Time

Recently Outside published an article about how hikers and hunters need to stick together if we are to protect our federal lands.

The article cites Mark Kenyon, a hunter who writes about what hunters and hikers can learn from each other on his blog, puts it this way: “Whether you tote a gun or a snowboard, these places matter to all of us.” Check out Kenyon’s post “3 Lessons Hunters Can Learn From John Muir.”

Today the American government in a perilous state. Our national parks and public lands are in jeopardy. The politics at play have divided people who have much more in common with each than they do with the politicians and lobbyist. In the spirit of that article, we could do well to read Aldo Leopold.


I grew up in southern Illinois on the prairie and in the hills of reclaimed strip mines. The picture above is from the front porch of my childhood home. While I’m not a hunter now, I’m not opposed to it. From the time I was eight until I was fourteen I went fishing nearly every clear, warm day. The outdoorsmen I knew growing up had a reverence for the woods that I had a hard time understanding as a kid. The nintendo entertainment system might part of the problem. I might not have appreciated all that those hunters, fishermen, and scoutmasters had to say back then, but I heard them. And those seeds grew. They would have felt at ease with old Leopold.


A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold channels outdoorsmen of lore as he hikes, hunts, fishes, cultivates crops, and plants trees on his farm in Wisconsin. Though the blurb pulled from the San Francisco Chronicle places Aldo Leopold along side with the likes of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, Leopold’s writing might be more necessary today than those other two. Leopold, unlike Muir, and Thoreau, considered himself to be a hunter.

I’m a big fan of John Muir’s writing and a member of the Sierra Club which he founded. Muir’s ability to find the macro in the micro is always compelling to me: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” However I know that there are some folks who won’t relate to him as well as they would to Leopold.

Thoreau, I feel more mixed emotions about. He was a lifelong virgin, and that’s something I just don’t trust. However Thoreau’s central question of “how many hours of your life do you want to trade for a necktie” is more important now than ever. I hesitate to think of how much of my life I’ve traded for all the hiking gear I’ve bought in the last year.

Leopold like Muir can imbue the micro with the macro: “Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example one need be neither god or nor poet; one need only own a shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say; Let there be a tree–and there will be one.” This is an emphatic way to look at the world. And more gets done this way than by sitting around singing kumbaya.

Leopold is even more honest when he acknowledges that we are animals who eat animals and that going out into the woods was not originally done as a recreational activity.  He also appreciates the skill and chance involved in hunting down one’s own dinner: “It was a swinging shot of the sort the partridge-hunter dreams about, and the bird tumbled dead in a shower of feathers and golden leaves.”

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