Earlier in 2021, the many years that Sinisa Golub toiled to translate Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (ASCA) into the Croatian language came to fruition with its publication in his native country. The backstory includes deep interaction between The Aldo Leopold Foundation, its executive director Buddy Huffaker, and Golub. That story is told, in part, in the two afterwords contained in the translation, and they follow here. (Sinisa Golub pictured above.)
A Book for Centuries to Come
By Sinisa Golub
In the year when we celebrate Earth Day (April 22) for the fifty-first time, and no less important World Wetlands Day (February 2) for the fiftieth time, Croatian readers and eco-activist public are being introduced to the book which has nurtured generations of worldwide naturalists, ecologists, activists, conservationists in the theoretical and practical fields, rangers and hunters, philosophers, ethicists, bioethicists, eco-historians, writers, and various artists who dedicate their work to land and the Earth.
It is quite a surprise that this significant book on nature conservation, quoted and referred to so often, was not translated to Croatian sooner. We may be less surprised if we consider the fact that there is no Croatian translation of the spiritual “father of national parks”, John Muir, and that equally cult-worthy Walden by H. D. Thoreau was only published in Croatia in 2005. On the other hand, we may be more surprised if we have the awareness of how many individuals and institutions have built on the work begun by Leopold, whether in theory or practice.
Along with Latvian, Croatian is the smallest language to which this book has been translated. Along with several English editions, A Sand County Almanac has also been translated to Chinese, Czech, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish. In other words, Croatian is the 15th world language in which the translation appears, this time under the title Ljetopis Pješčanog Okruga.
Neither experts nor scientists in Croatia have taken much interest in Leopold, although he is one of the greatest nature conservationist, practical applicants, professors, and philosophers in the field. In Croatian publications, Leopold appears only as side note in ecological lexicons, several scientific papers, and some articles in the field of popular science, primarily published in professional journals with a limited circulation. Some change has occurred, however, in the past decade.
Why is Leopold almost unknow in Croatia? It seems there were no generations of Croatian foresters and hunters that came into close enough proximity with this book by Leopold, or, if they did, then there was a lack of the ways and means to translate and publish it in Croatian. It is precisely in this book that Leopold observantly harbingers what Croatian foresters and hunters love to highlight as an absolute and irrefutable fact—that they are, in actuality, the greatest practical ecologists and conservationists in the specific meaning of the terms.
In the third decade of the 21st century, and a full seventy years after its first publication, this cosmic injustice towards Leopold and his best-known work is being rectified by an author and a practitioner in the field of nature conservation. In the process, he hopes that hunters, foresters, and landowners from this linguistic area will find it inspiring enough to take some proper action and develop a more ethical relationship with the land and biotic communities which they manage, following either written or unwritten laws. In this manner, each true nature lover and enlightened landowner who thinks and perceives things outside the stimuli by acre will find confirmation that they are not alone in their musings. In his book, Leopold wrote down many universal thoughts and sentiments, which less skillful naturalists and farmers were simply unable to convey to the general reading public. This is exactly why they felt professionally alone and generally misunderstood.
With its simplicity, immediacy, expressive style, but also depth and many different layers of meaning, A Sand County Almanac has captured the hearts of millions of readers in a vast range of generations and geographical coordinates. It is one of those rare books about which more pages (of analyses and contemplations) have been written than it consists of itself.
The focus of Leopold’s ecological or ethical interest is not (just) on great, intact, and officially protected natural areas, such as national parks or national forests. He is also interested in small farms and, in American terms, relatively small properties with forested and agricultural patches, which need a good “husband”, or owner. Leopold considers them “great possessions“. In his rural county he uncovers the same mechanics and gripping biotic dramas being played out, as those in more popular areas which the largest part of the modern-day world population considers destinations where they can escape the everyday life. Leopold, therefore, reveals the world in our back yard, in a nearby meadow, forest, treetop, or stream. The vast natural world has been compressed into this short masterpiece book, just like he managed to compress eighty years of American ecohistory into a single trunk of the Good Oak. And what a world it is—the Almanac mentions 375 species in 140 habitats of varying sizes.
At the same time, it invites us to conserve nature, to treat ethically the land community—or, land, waters, plants, and animals, collectively called—the land. He is acutely aware that we can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in.
By Buddy Huffaker
By picking up this slim book of nature observations and philosophical musings that has now been translated into 15 languages you join a community of people all around the world working to extend ethical consideration and care to the plants, animals, air, and waters all around us.
If you read to the end, you will find that the author, Aldo Leopold, has been awaiting your reading and arrival since it was first published in 1949 as he outlines this vision of a “land ethic” while clarifying that “nothing as important as an ethic is ever ‘written,’” rather he states it “evolves in the minds of a thinking community.”
And the world needs you and this “thinking community” now more than ever, which is why this translation by Sinisa Golub is timely as we try to rise to the challenge of the climate crises that threatens to engulf us all.
Though Aldo Leopold could not have predicted climate change his call to maintain and restore the health of our own homelands and waters not only would have prevented this crises if previously embraced and implemented, but nevertheless continues to serve as a key ingredient for the mitigation and adaptation now required.
It is this shared bond of caring for and about special places that brought me to know Sinisa and the work of his family to care for Medimurska Park when he visited the Aldo Leopold Center nearly 17 years ago. I’ve been fortunate to meet visitors from all over the world coming to experience the place where Aldo Leopold and his family planted pines trees and prairies which in turn inspired the writing of ASCA. Many are brought to tears when they see the humble ‘Shack’ that served as the base camp for the Leopold family’s efforts, but few have arrived with as much passion and commitment to learn about, implement, and share Leopold’s “land ethic” as Sinisa.
Over time and after several visits, and travels with Sinisa he has come to be not only a colleague but a true friend. We exchange experiences and insights about how to improve our respective environmental education programs, how to improve our land stewardship efforts, how to reach new audiences, and at times we share the moments of hope and despair we experience when taking on the responsibility of advancing social change.
I was to visit Croatia for my first time in the spring of 2020 to see for myself Medjimurska County and Croatian conservation when COVID-19 layered an urgent health crises on top of the climate crises. It was going to be an opportunity for us to collaborate further on the translation and look to the future. Despite the setback, Sinisa worked on translating this book believing it could further inform and inspire fellow Croats by better connecting your good work with the global conservation movement.
As I attempted to answer Sinisa’s questions via email and direct message regarding certain passages and phrases I read ASCA once again, only this time through the eyes of a friend and colleague that speaks another language and lives half a world away. The process and exchange helped me come to appreciate even more the timeless and universal aspect of Leopold’s “land ethic.”
Just as the book connected Sinisa and myself, the lasting legacy of Leopold’s ASCA is its ability to create a connection with, and among, so many of its readers. That is why I write this introduction yearning of my chance to one day visit Croatia, to listen and learn further from Sinisa, to see Croatian conservation first hand, and to meet you all as fellow “thinking community” colleagues connected by this shared commitment to build an ethic of care.
Yours in conservation,
Aldo Leopold Foundation