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My Father’s Land Ethic

Through his writing, Aldo Leopold left a legacy of conservation knowledge and philosophy to inspire future generations. In its second year, the Wisconsin Aldo Leopold Writing Contest has challenged high school students to study a selection of Leopold’s writings and respond to a related question or writing prompt. This year students were invited to read Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic” essay from A Sand County Almanac and tell the story of a local leader who exemplifies Leopold’s land ethic.

In partnership with the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and sponsors, Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation and CTI Meeting Technology, we are pleased to share with you the 2017 winning essays in a series of posts here on the Building a Land Ethic blog.


My Father’s Land Ethic

By Althea Bernstein
Grade 10, Monona

I spend my summers running barefoot down my street. Galloping down the middle of the road to escape the agonizing heat from the asphalt, I hit the field and slow down to a trot as my bucket bumps against my shins reminding me of my goal. The cool grass wiggles its way between my toes and soothes my blistered feet. This last summer something was missing when I reached my destination, a small pond surrounded by large suburban houses, a school, and neatly kept soccer fields. The surface of the pond is calm and tranquil. I am puzzled for there are no ripples from the whiskered sailors that usually patrol the water. I walk around the perimeter of the pond and not a single splash or croak welcomes us. The normal chorus has gone. I walk home with a dry untouched bucket.

I returned almost every week with my dad that summer to check on my pond. A thick black scum started to grow on the top. I was finding dead painted turtles and there were no signs of my chorus friends. Garbage was collecting at the banks of the pond and that’s when I knew something was seriously wrong. My dad carefully gets on his right knee and scoops a snack wrapper out and puts it into my bucket. This had been a bothersome habit of my dad’s. Picking up trash and stashing it away in the deep pockets of his khakis till he encountered the next trash can. He would interrupt our time at the park to clean up. I never quite understood his attraction to this strange deed. I watched him spoon out the bits of trash from the murky water and now had a better understanding. My favorite place in my neighborhood had been transformed into a mosquito breeding ground. I realized that picking up litter is my dad’s unspoken responsibility to the land.

Althea and her father

Althea and her dad. Photo: M. Simoes, *protected email*.

Aldo Leopold said in his writing, The Land Ethic, “There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.” I believe we should create a land ethic that can be shared and passed down and that if more people take initiative and everybody chooses a fragment of the land’s community to take care of, our land would be much healthier as well as benefit us with its beauty and healthier resources. My dad has shown me that it is important to take care of our land. My dad is not the president, a celebrity, or in the NFL, but I believe he is just as important. This shows that anyone can be and should be involved in taking care of our land. Without our land, we would have nothing. Everything we have has come from materials our land has provided for us. Anyone can take care of the land, no matter who you are. I hope people like my dad will inspire others to include the land in their community.

Althea Bernstein bio picAlthea Bernstein is a home-schooled sophomore. She has lived in the Madison area her whole life but enjoys traveling to see family and explore natural areas in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and northern Wisconsin and Michigan. In addition to volunteering at Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Althea works at a veterinary clinic, tends her own growing family of pets, and sings and dances.

Feature photo, top, Summer cool, courtesy of wheatfieldbrown / CC BY-SA 2.0


Explore the rest of the winning essays!

Links will become available for the other winning essays as they are published to the blog. Check back throughout the summer!