A Healthy Sense of Awe and Wonder: A Reflection on Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac

By Maggie Rogers

In A Sand County Almanac, Leopold moves through one year on his small Wisconsin farm. For each month, he shares his detailed amazement at the workings of the plants and animals that surround him.  Clearly he has a great respect for the ineffable beauty and complexity of the ephemeral natural world.

Throughout the year, Leopold displays a pattern of rejoicing at sights and circumstances most others might not. In April, he is filled with “inner glee” as flood waters cover the road and surround his hilltop. He marvels at the history of old boards floating by, as he guesses their age and intended purpose. There is no mention of frustration or pragmatism as Leopold’s farm becomes increasingly isolated. Instead, he praises the isolation of the high water as being far superior to that of an island or mountain top which are not as wonderfully secluded.

“Draba Ramosissima”

Also in April, Leopold discusses Draba, a small wild flower that marks the coming of spring. He humorously and poetically describes it saying “Draba plucks no heartstrings. Its perfume, if there is any is lost in the gusty winds. Its color is plain white. It leaves wear a sensible woolly coat. Nothing eats it; it is too small. No poets sing of it. Some botanist once gave it a Latin name, and then forgot it. Altogether it is of no importance- just a small creature that does a small job quickly and well.” He claims this very tiny flower has no importance, and yet even in that lack of importance or recognition, he finds beauty.

As Leopold describes pausing during a grouse hunt to ponder at different varieties of pines and wildflowers, a find myself missing a tradition from a camp where I worked last summer called sky breaks. They could be expected but never planned, a welcome unscheduled activity. Often during evening games or around that time at the golden hour, someone noticing a particularly beautiful sky would shout out “sky break”.  At those words everyone would pause and look up. In those few minutes of calm, everyone would marvel at the picturesque hues of orange, red, purple, and blue playing on the clouds as the sun slipped behind the mountains. With necks craned upwards, the mundane faded away as everyone was filled with awe for the Earth’s beauty. Lifting my gaze to the sky in those moments would make me feel impossibly small, as small as a Draba flower when compared with the universe, but also impossibly important, to be able to experience such incredible fleeting beauty.

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