Dixie has always loved nature and wildlife. As a child, she thought nothing of picking up a skunk by the tail and bringing it home for a pet. (Strangely enough, her mother let her keep it!) In high school and college she developed an interest in herpetology and had quite a succession of snakes as pets. It was quite natural, therefore, that she fell in love with her first copy of Sand County Almanac.
This book by Aldo Leopold made quite an impression on her. Aldo’s writing was captivating. He is generally considered to be one of our nation’s first environmentalists. His work in science, ecology and forestry was seminal. Eventually, Dixie would graduate from Texas A&M with a degree from the Wildlife and Fisheries department.
She still had this book when we married in 1990. When I eventually got around to reading it, it was an eye-opener. It jolted my understanding of things as simple as what ‘nature’ was. I had generally viewed wide swaths of ranch and farm land in Texas as natural. Sand County Almanac revealed the hidden history of land use to me. It was difficult to picture what the original prairie grasses and trees might have looked like to the original pioneers who arrived, but this book caused me to try. It also sparked in me a love for wildlife, birds in particular. We still have this book, although I’m not sure it is going to make it to South America with us. However, I have always remembered his description of the dusk skydance of the woodcock, but perhaps his most memorable words were reserved for the sandhill crane when he wrote:
Some day, perhaps in the very process of our benefactions, perhaps in the fullness of geologic time, the last crane will trumpet his farewell and spiral skyward from the great marsh. High out of the clouds will fall the sound of hunting horns, the baying of the phantom pack, the tinkle of little bells, and then a silence never to be broken, unless perchance in some far pasture of the Milky Way.
When Leopold began his own wildlife restoration project near Baraboo, there were only 25 pairs of nesting Sandhill Cranes left in the entire state of Wisconsin. To this day I am unable to read that passage out loud without getting a bit choked up. Such is the power of the words and imagery of Aldo Leopold.
Shortly before we left on our RV journey in April of 2011 we found out that a new documentary about Leopold would be shown in Farmer’s Branch. Green Fire was a great overview of Leopold’s life and work, and a nice sendoff for our trip. It also made us aware of the Leopold Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Another pin appeared on our trip map.
Finally, on September 12th we arrived. We spoke with the volunteers manning the center’s front desk and wandered around the facilities. We admired the form and function of the buildings and its zero-carbon footprint. We learned from a display that Leopold now has only one remaining daughter. We also discovered that the center provided bicycles for the short trip down the road to Leopold’s old cabin. Dixie was rather insistent, so we took the ride and strolled around the cabin, trying to imagine what it would have looked like back in the 1935 when Leopold acquired the land and began one of the nation’s first ecological restoration projects.
We soaked it in. We walked to the river’s edge through deep sand. We hiked through the trees. Dixie spent time sitting on a small bench in front of the shack. I used the outhouse.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. I could write forever and never describe this place adequately. Kenneth Brower, however, wrote eloquently about the shack and Leopold in 2001 in the Sierra Club magazine, and I could add nothing to his eloquence. Give it a read here. You won’t regret it.
Here is the full album of photos: