Several anniversaries come to mind as we approach “Leopold Week,” the annual celebration of legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold and his classic book, “A Sand County Almanac.”
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the book’s first printing in 1949. It has since been translated into 15 languages and sold well over 2 million copies.
This year marks the 25th celebration of the original “Leopold Weekend,” when the professor’s fans in Lodi, Wisconsin—population 2,893 at the time—gathered in the town’s library in March 2000 to read aloud “A Sand County Almanac” cover to cover.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Wisconsin legally designating the first Saturday and Sunday of March as “Aldo Leopold Weekend.” Sen. Mark Miller of Madison wrote that legislation after helping Lodi read “A Sand County Almanac” in March 2003, and applauding former DNR Secretary George Meyer’s suggestion that the entire state join Lodi in honoring Leopold annually. The Wisconsin Senate and Assembly passed Miller’s bill later that year, and Gov. Jim Doyle signed it into law.
The man behind those original “Lodi Reads Leopold” sessions, the late Tom Heberlein, loved seeing the celebrations spread to other Wisconsin communities, often saying: “It’s not only a good idea. It’s now the law!”
Heberlein didn’t even nitpick subsequent Leopold events that didn’t read the entire book aloud. They instead read select chapters or passages. Heberlein knew firsthand that reading the entire book aloud takes lots of work, scheduling and readers. But he also knew that task isn’t the last full measure of devotion to Leopold, the father of wildlife management.
If honoring heroes requires physical sacrifice and feats of endurance, Heberlein would suggest you visit Massachusetts each January for the “Moby-Dick Marathon” at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Only those of true steel participate in this celebration of Herbert Melville’s classic novel about one man’s obsession with a white whale. Participants read the 823-page “Moby-Dick” aloud without interruption, starting on a Saturday at noon and finishing Sunday after 1 p.m., with readers averaging 32 pages per hour.
Heberlein said the “Moby-Dick Marathon” inspired the first “Lodi Reads Leopold” event, but he didn’t want an endurance event. “Can you imagine that?” he asked in a February 2002 newspaper column. “Those (Moby-Dick) folks are tough. I just thought it would be neat to do something like that with ‘A Sand County Almanac.’ But Leopold readings are easier and more fun. Leopold was a great writer and his book is much shorter.”
Several Wisconsin communities and organizations liked the idea and held “Leopold Weekend” events in the years that followed. Buddy Huffaker, executive director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, helped publicize 30 such events across Wisconsin, and in Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico and the Northeast.
And then Covid-19 epidemic struck soon after the 2020 in-person events. To help fill the gap Covid-19 created, the Leopold Foundation launched a virtual event in March 2021. Its popularity soon boomed. The foundation’s online “Leopold Week” event in 2023 attracted over 7,500 participants across the United States and 13 other countries.
Huffaker said the virtual event has grown so fast the foundation has its hands full keeping up, even as other groups and communities resumed in-person events, such as the Crossroads Book Club in Sturgeon Bay, 10 to 11:30 a.m., on Feb. 21; “Madison Reads Leopold” at the Arboretum Visitors Center, 1 to 4 p.m., March 2; and the Calhoun Creek Prairie in New Berlin, 5 to 7 p.m., March 2.
Huffaker himself will kick off this year’s online event (https://www.crowdcast.io/@aldoleopoldfoundation) with a presentation at noon March 1. As the group’s executive director, Huffaker has represented Leopold’s legacy and land ethic for over 25 years. He remains engaged with Leopold’s family while stewarding over 4,000 acres around the fabled Leopold Shack and Farm National Historic Landmark. Huffaker has also participated in three White House conferences on conservation and environmental education, and delivers countless presentations across the country to share Leopold’s story.
He said the online program has proven more dynamic and engaging than the foundation anticipated. Participants can question the speakers during their presentations, and engage each other in side discussions during or after each talk.
And much like “A Sand County Almanac” itself, the “Leopold Week” readings and events will remain relevant far into the future, Huffaker predicts.
“The book is now 75 years old and it’s as important, if not more relevant today than it was in 1949,” he said. “It’s also a beautifully written book. Leopold worked hard to become a great writer, and the quality and timelessness of his written words endure. People will always like his approach. They want to be part of the solution, and they want to maintain those connections with the land and each other.”
This year’s Leopold Foundation online event, titled “Natural, Wild, and Free,” also features talks and interviews from Saturday, March 2, through Thursday, March 7, by artists, authors and hunter/ecologists, including:
-- Max Sorenson, a visiting artist at the Aldo Leopold Foundation, and Land Stewardship fellow in 2022-23.
-- Lyanda Lynn Haupt, an author, naturalist, speaker and ecophilosopher who explores the connections between people and the natural world.
-- Diane Wilson, a writer, educator and environmental advocate who has published four award-winning books and essays in numerous publications.
-- Karl Malcolm, assistant director of renewable resources for the Eastern region of the U.S. Forest Service in Milwaukee. Malcolm, a frequent guest on the MeatEater Podcast and TV show, previously served as regional wildlife ecologist and program manager for the Southwestern regional wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers in New Mexico.
-- Ed Yong, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and longtime science reporter for The Atlantic. Yong’s work has also appeared in National Geographic, the New Yorker, Wired, Nature, New Scientist and Scientific American.
For more information about “Leopold Week,” visit the foundation’s website, https://www.aldoleopold.org.
The Leopold Shack and Farm National Historic Landmark on the Wisconsin River near Baraboo is a popular destination for those celebrating Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife management. — Patrick Durkin photo