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A Sand County Almanac | Quotes


To the mouse, snow means freedom from want and fear.

Part 1, January

Leopold uses the mouse, who finds safety from predators by hiding under snow cover in winter, as an example of how different animals react to the same event based on their role in the ecosystem. The mouse is prey, so snow cover is a protection from predators and a thaw is dangerous. This is contrasted with the perspective of the hawk, for whom the thaw is an opportunity to find prey (like the mouse) more easily.


It is this sunlight that is now being released ... to warm my shack and my spirit through eighty gusts of blizzard.

Part 1, February

Leopold traces the sunlight that fell on the oak while it was growing all the way through the life cycle of the tree to its use as fuel for the fire once felled. This is just one of many examples of how a natural process, such as photosynthesis, is connected to a human activity. It demonstrates how humans must and do depend on other living things.


What a dull world if we knew all about geese!

Part 1, March

Leopold's delight in not knowing things is an enjoyable feature of his writing. The bulk of his writing contains well-reasoned and well-informed explanations for his observations, but he also includes these moments of pure wonder. If people knew all the answers to nature's mysteries, they would find the world lacking in inspiration. It is the unanswered and unanswerable questions that pique human curiosity such as his.


Like other great landowners, I have tenants. They are negligent about rents, but very punctilious about tenures.

Part 1, July

Leopold takes his role as landowner seriously. He sees himself as needing to take responsibility for the health of the living systems within the boundaries of his farm. Yet his seriousness is tempered by good humor, as here he compares the wildlife on his land to other people's tenants who don't pay their rent but in his case can be counted on in other ways. That is, they do not care about human money, but they come and go according to a regular schedule.


The shrinkage in the flora is due to ... clean-farming, woodlot grazing, and good roads.

Part 1, July

Leopold makes the point that even well-intentioned human actions, like building good roads and using the latest developments in farming methods, often have a negative effect on the plants and animals in an ecosystem.


The disappointment I feel ... shows that things hoped for have a higher value than things assured.

Part 1, September

Speaking of the unpredictable singing of the quail at dawn, Leopold expresses his disappointment on mornings when he encounters silence rather than song. His observation that "things hoped for" have more emotional impact than "things assured" suggests that life's unpredictability is of more value than its predictability. This echoes a sentiment found frequently in his writings—nature is better when it is wild and surprising than when it is made safe. The anticipation sometimes exceeds the reality.


The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, but He is no longer the only one to do so.

Part 1, November

As a landowner and forester, Leopold sees himself as a benevolent ruler, wielding a godlike ability to create and destroy by means of his shovel, which can plant a tree, and his axe, which can take one down.


I wonder whether the process ordinarily referred to as growing up is not actually a process of growing down.

Part 2, Illinois and Iowa

Leopold suggests as people gain life experience, they actually lose sight of what is essential about life—a sometimes childlike sense of wonder at the world. The clutter of life diminishes people; hence they grow down rather than up. Although he says this with a touch of humor, the sentiment is a wake-up call to adults who have lost their sense of wonder and need to take steps to find it again.


The cowman ... has not learned to think like a mountain.

Part 2, Arizona and New Mexico

People think about short-term gains, but a mountain may be said to have a longer view of things. If people could only learn to think like mountains, they would avoid the practices that benefit people now but make larger problems in the future. He specifically cites the Dust Bowl and soil erosion as evidence humans have not learned to "think like a mountain."


They acclaimed the superior virtues of the frontiersman, but they strove ... to make an end of the frontier.

Part 2, Arizona and New Mexico

This criticism is leveled at politicians who claim that the virtues attributed to the frontiersmen (such as bravery, resilience, determination, individuality, and hard work) are worthy of praise. These are the same leaders who make policy that will result in the eradication of the frontier.

The discrepancy between the words and actions of those in decision-making roles is a frustration to Leopold and may be one motivator for some of his writing. Perhaps if people understood how humans and nature are connected, they could make better political and economic decisions about how best to conserve wilderness.


Freedom from fear has arrived, but a glory has departed from the green lagoons.

Part 2, Chihuahua and Sonora

Leopold speculates that the green lagoons of the Colorado Delta have likely become safer (only for cows), and he laments this possibility. He recalls his time spent there as one of adventure and amazement. Making it safer brings freedom from fear, but another kind of freedom—the freedom to seek and find adventure—will have disappeared.


Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.

Part 2, Manitoba

Throughout his writing Leopold has concerns that people in general are not attentive to nature, and this makes them both miss out on its wonder and make poor decisions regarding its care. Much of his disappointment in this matter is targeted toward those who should know better—the professors, experts, policymakers, and even conservationists who seem to know so much and understand so little.

Here he suggests that obtaining knowledge of one sort—academic—means giving up understanding of another, vital ethical sort.


Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization.

Part 3, Wilderness

Leopold traces the diversity of the world's civilizations to the inherent diversity in the "raw material" used to build them. He sees a beauty in this diversity and worries that the disappearance of wilderness will hasten a disappearance of the unique features of different cultures.


The land ethic ... enlarges the boundaries of the community to include ... the land.

Part 3, The Land Ethic

Leopold's land ethic rests on the expansion of human understanding of what constitutes a community. He argues that ethics governs how we treat others in our community. He suggests expanding the definition of community to include the soils, waters, plants, and animals that live on the land. He uses the term land to encompass these parts of the environment.


Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.

Part 3, The Land Ethic

This statement sums up Leopold's understanding of conservation. He sees conservation as a state of being, not only as a process or set of laws. Conservation is a way of living in which humanity, plants, animals, solids, and water are all in "harmony" with each other.

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