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Leopold Week  •  Programs and Events

The Aldo Leopold Foundation will be closed to the public for a private event on Saturday, September 30.


Doing “Shack-y” Things

I love the term that’s become a part of my Leopold dictionary how the family would do “Shack-y things with each other during their time here. The “Shack-y” thing I love the most is the music they played with each other.  

Nina carrying her Shack essentials: a picnic basket, rifle, notebook, and guitar.

During a drive between the Shack and their home in Madison, Aldo Leopold exclaimed to his wife, Estella Sr., that he would like a guitar for his birthday – and that whoever learns to play it the first would get to keep it. Excited and determined to win, the Leopold siblings began learning guitar. It wasn’t always perfect at first; since there was no YouTube or Google to help learn guitar, the brothers tuned the strings to what made sense to them and made up some chords. Eventually, they learned to tune their guitar strings to Estella Sr.’s piano, and began to play songs.

Soon, the family was making music and singing along with each other, whether it be on the drive to and from the Shack, at the Shack itself around a warm campfire, or at home in Madison. It was a way for the family to connect with each other in a way that goes beyond words.  

Estella Sr., Carl, and Estella Jr. playing guitar at the Shack

Estella Jr. Writes in her book, Stories from the Leopold Shack: 

“The rest of us would sit around the fire and continue the singing and talking till our bed time. Carl or I would take turns playing the guitar, and we would all sing Spanish songs. We loved to harmonize on the Spanish folk songs Mother had taught us. She had a lovely voice and was very musical, having played the piano for many years. Sometimes, Nina liked to recall, after we all thought Dad was asleep, suddenly his voice would pipe up and he’d ask something like, “How about playing Brahm’s lullaby?” 

This tradition of playing music at the Shack has continued to this day. In fact, here is a video of Estella Jr. playing a Spanish Folk Song at a board meeting a few years ago:

I like to imagine the joy, laughter, and fun the family shared when singing these songs with each other while growing up — and that when they heard these songs again, they were reminded of their time together at the Shack, doing “Shack-y” things.