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Winning Essayists Share Their Favorite Wild Places


Through his writing, Aldo Leopold left a legacy of conservation knowledge and philosophy to inspire future generations. In its third year, the Wisconsin Aldo Leopold Writing Contest has challenged high school students to consider Aldo Leopold’s fondness for wildness and describe their favorite place in nature and what makes it wild. Students were encouraged to read the “Foreword” from A Sand County Almanac for greater understanding.

In partnership with the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and sponsors, Conserve School and CTI Meeting Technology, we are pleased to share with you the 2018 winning essays in a series of posts here on the Building a Land Ethic blog.


Rocky Mountain National Park

Truly Wild

By Ansel Brenneman
Grade 9, Laurel Charter High School

Aldo Leopold wrote: “There are those who can live without wild things, and those who cannot.” This is one of the most powerful and understandable quotes that I have ever read.

I think of myself as one who cannot live without wild things. Rocky Mountain National Park is a wild place that I love. My definition of a wild place is a natural area with little evidence of modern humankind; a place where the greatest danger to wildlife is other wild animals. This wild place, being in a national park, is protected from human impacts.

My whole family has spent a lot of time in Rocky Mountain National Park. My great-grandfather was one of the most influential people in my life. He taught me much of what I know now about the Rocky Mountains, nature in general and how important it is to work to protect wild places. Both my conservationist great-grandparents’ ashes are spread in a very beautiful clearing in the park, with an amazing view of Long’s Peak. It means a lot to me to be able to go there, knowing why they loved it there and being able to experience it first-hand myself.

My 8th-grade class trip was spent in Rocky Mountain National Park. I enjoyed being able to share a truly beautiful and wild place with my classmates, a place that I had been many times before. While camping along Fall River and sitting on a rock at the river’s edge journaling, I wrote about the mountains. I wrote how the mountains seemed to be the silent guardians of nature, offering shelter and a chance of survival for all living things.

On the last day of the trip, I was among only five of my classmates to hike to the top of a mountain overlooking Rocky Mountain National Park. When we reached the summit, we all sat there quietly in awe of the new perspective of the park. I saw a new view, where the seemingly endless path to the top was barely visible, and where no human commodity seemed important. The sheer size and grandeur of the park struck me with a feeling that it was always meant to be wild.

To me, Leopold’s quote: “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect,” means that once we can treat the land we live in with love and respect, then we can truly know what it has to offer us. I love and respect Rocky Mountain National Park because it brings its animals, plants, and people a sense of peace and belonging that is only possible in places that are truly wild.

Ansel Brenneman bio picAnsel Brenneman is beginning his sophomore year at Laurel Charter High School in Viroqua. He participates in basketball, soccer, track, and theater. In March, Ansel was awarded the 2018 WI DNR award for Outstanding Achievement in Youth Citizen-based Monitoring. Since 7th grade, he has been volunteering as a citizen scientist for bat monitoring and conservation. 

Feature photo, top, Sunrise in the Rockies, courtesy of Bernard Spragg.


white-tail deer fawn

My Wild Place

By Grant R. Herfindahl
Grade 9, River Valley High School

A place in nature that has always been wild to me is my grandparents’ farm. I love this place so much because, although there is a warm house upon the land, much of the surrounding area is truly wild. The farm is surrounded by a large amount of trees, but beyond that is prairie almost for as far as the eye can see. It truly is far away and somewhat secluded from everything else around.

To me, even the journey there seems wild, as one ventures west, crossing the St. Croix River, traveling through Minneapolis and St. Paul, and slowly watching as the cities get smaller and smaller and smaller until we arrive at the farm, in the countryside around Benson, Minnesota. When my great-great-great grandfather, Ole Olsen Herfindahl, came to the United States from Norway, he took the railroad as far as he could possibly travel, which took him to Benson. Once he arrived, he traveled to a hill and built the farm on a plot of land outside of town. Traveling there gives me somewhat of a similar feeling, traveling to escape civilization.

It is peaceful being way out there, especially in the winter, with the snow painting the trees a beautiful, serene, white color; the gentle rustling of the cold winter wind through the trees and the creek north of the farm gently flowing in the harsh winter weather. In the Foreword of A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes that “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” My family and I have always been those who cannot; nature calms us and humbles us with every awe-inspiring sight we see.

I have very fond memories of being out in nature on the farm. I remember hiding among the snow-covered trees as I played games with my cousins and siblings. We would also sit around a bonfire on the small, frozen Sand Lake, nearby, out in the cold, surrounded by nothing by vast open land, the distant farm, the frozen lake, and the night sky.

Many creatures dwell on this land, from owls to snakes and coyotes. I remember seeing an occasional deer in the early morning, casually strolling through the woods. I can remember hearing the birds chirping in the trees, and an owl hooting before the dawn. I can recall hearing the howling of coyotes at night, roaming across the grasslands around the house.

For a while, my grandparents had a faithful dog, Anne. She was a very sweet and gentle creature, always running up to meet our car as we traveled up the long winding gravel road leading to the Herfindahl farm. A few years ago, Anne passed away, and even though I have a fear of dogs. I will miss her. I’ll never forget the times that Anne came running up to greet us as we stepped out into the beautiful farm, my favorite place in nature, my wild place.

Grant Herfindahl bio picGrant Herfindahl is beginning his sophomore year at River Falls High School. He enjoys writing, drawing maps, reading, camping, and playing games of many varieties. He loves to be outdoors alone or with the rest of his family, all of whom are “those that cannot” live without wild things. He enjoys hiking and traveling to see wild sights like solar eclipses and crane migrations.

Feature photo, middle, White-tail Deer Fawn, courtesy of Dave Freriks.


Explore the rest of the winning essays!

Links will become available for the other winning essays as they are published to the blog.