So today in my Hunting and Wildlife Management class-WFB 307-a course that I teach with a heavy dose of good old fashioned reading, writing and dialogue, I wanted the students to enjoin a discussion of hunting ethic as it pertains to a reading assignment. I wanted to talk about hunting versus killing. The assignment was to have read about half of Leopold's classic. We'd talk about how the classic work fit into their personal hunting ethic and something called the "North American Model". Really, I just wanted a conversation about conservation. No Powerpoint, no lecture---but something approaching dialogue and passion about why these guys are supposedly paying lots of tuition to do what they're doing. What I got was silence. It was like a smokey shrew scurrying on cotton-soft moss. The looks of utter despair at the prospect of not only having to read but discuss something made almost all of them uncomfortable. There were audible sighs and eyes rolling. After all, many of them had read the book when they were in another class of mine (I require the book in all of my courses) or another professor's course. You mean, I might actually have to refer to something I'd already read or refer to it again? When only a couple of the all male group raised their hands to even comment on a favorite part of the book, my inner grizzly roared out of hibernation. What? A university student read a book? How dare he! This is after all, only a one hour course, come on Doc! Give us a break and the easy "A" we signed up for! The hook and bullet "Bubbas" are disappointed perhaps that I want them to think about killing in a different and yes, heartfelt way. I constantly warn them that if we don't change the perception and negative culture of hunting, that it will disappear. Even the prospect of losing it seems not to embolden any of them. My inner grizzly, now fully awake and furious, began to charge full out.
A Sand County Almanac should be essential reading for everyone in a wildlife, forestry or natural resources discipline. In all honesty, at a "Cow College" like Clemson, where agriculture and natural resources are in the mission of the place, every student ought to be required to read it. But then again, "Land Grant" has become a dirty word at institutions more tuned in to the technology of the day than taking care of the land. God forbid we leave the quest for meaningless rankings behind to do what we were built to do. But I digress--I'll save that manifesto for a future blog!
Reading A Sand County Almanac should be an annual thing. You see, if I could, I would stand on the corner and hand out copies of the book like Gideons hand out the little green Bibles. I would leave them on the night stands of cheap hotels and offer them at deer camps. I challenge you all. Buy a cheap, dog-eared copy with no fear of soiling it. Stuff it in the hunting sack, hiking bag or tackle box. Follow it through the season, let the burnished leaves of maples fall into "Good Oak"; have an acorn punctuate "Great Possessions". Use a well-worn, fan-feather from that long-beard that escaped you last spring to mark the place where Aldo makes you want to be the wind. If you must, read it aloud as you grow weary on the stand--the deer aren't ready to show themselves yet anyway. Take a minute while the migrating warblers aren't flitting about to ponder the travels of an Upland Sandpiper. Mouth the holy words silently like mantras; "Conservation is a state of harmony..." Find your heartbeat slowing to a crawl with the dim of evening light of the "Sky Dance"-- let the stress slip down the river like lumber in "Come High Water". Imagine how many winters the chickadees you see from your stand have endured.
I will have the opportunity of a lifetime in a few weeks to visit Aldo Leopold's beloved Shack. In that special month when the red lanterns of blackberries light the way and grouse flush like feathered bombs from the briers, I will make a pilgrimage to that special place where the thoughts and words of someone I never knew shaped my life to love the land. I know that his booted footprints are long since faded from the soil and his pines are now matured to majesty. I will take a copy of my Sand County "Bible" and like I imagine so many others have done, read a passage or two aloud to whatever wild will listen. In that classroom of the woods, I imagine I'll get few complaints.