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.
The Unchanged Bay
By Ethan Frank
Grade 9, Wildlands Charter School
In Wisconsin, we have many lakes. These lakes usually have bays, these are quiet waters surrounded by land on three sides. At the Holcombe Flowage, there are many, but one is really special. The fog clings to the water early in the morning here. Every day the sunrise and sunset is picture worthy. Yet, no one even notices.
This is the kind of bay where several painted turtles will bask in the heat of the sun on a log. This bay has many little bluegills and big bass, and it occasionally holds a blue heron. Motorboats don’t like to go far into the bay because of all the floating and submerged vegetation. Many rivers feed into the Holcombe Flowage and this bay is the nicest location to take a break after a long morning paddle. It’s common to see all different types of waterfowl feeding on the many plants and fish that inhabit the waters.
In the winter many muskrats hide in their homes that they worked hard to build all summer long. As soon as there is a safe amount of ice on the lake a few people try their luck to catch a walleye in the shallow waters. But no one stays too long. Sometimes children ice skate or cross-country ski on the lake. These activities are much more pleasant than the roar of snowmobiles on the many cold winter nights.
But as the ice melts away construction crews start up again. They build homes and wreck the silence that is already so rare in our human lives. “Perhaps such a shift of values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free” (Leopold, 1948). This statement helps me appreciate the unbroken silence of the bay. It’s especially strong on spring mornings when natural sounds can be heard. Wild turkeys plentifully live on the high banks surrounding the bay. Vivid Gobbling can be heard on spring mornings. Then at mid-morning, some musky fisherman try catching their dream fish along the weed beds. It’s such a treat to watch bass jump out of the water to catch their prey. Once in a while they get lucky and pull out a trophy from the bay.
When you spend a lot of time at one place it can become uneventful, but not at the bay. The longer you’re there, the more you see. When you think it’s too hot outside a nice breeze comes along and cools you down. If the fish aren’t biting you can always watch water striders and dragonflies. The bay is a small piece of wilderness amongst a crazy world. It should be visited and kept for all. Unnamed, unchanged and calm; this is what needs to be protected. Our bays are special and they all need to be preserved.
Ethan Frank is beginning his sophomore year at Wildlands Charter School in Augusta, Wisconsin. He is an avid fisherman and outdoorsman. Ethan enjoys spending time with his grandparents on the Holcombe Flowage. He is also involved in football, track, and 4-H.
Feature photo, top, Great Blue Heron, courtesy of Dave Freriks.
Cherry Hill: My Greatest Classroom
By Lucas LoBreglio
Grade 11, Madison West High School
When I was growing up, I often heard of the many achievements of legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold, and how he helped change the way many people think about nature. While I admired his positive impact on the world, I never fully internalized the true spirit of his writings and his perception of wild land- until I visited a place that brought his literature to life and had profound effects on my character. I owe my sense of adventure, many lifelong friends, and my love of nature to a few hundred square feet of woodland affectionately named “Cherry Hill”.
Located in the lush forests of Richland Center, Wisconsin, on the property of a summer camp called Camp Woodbrooke, Cherry Hill isn’t what first comes to mind when one thinks of wild places. Its forested landscape is bisected by a wide trail and a campsite that are trampled by young children every summer. However, the personal growth I experienced there exemplifies the true power of wild land. I was first brought to the Hill by two camp counselors, beginning a camping trip that would change the course of my entire life. Ten of us, all inexperienced, video-game-obsessed teenagers, were tasked with pitching tents, building fires, preparing meals, and digging latrines. We were all reluctant to do this at first, but after days of practice we learned to appreciate the fulfillment of mastering new skills and the satisfaction of setting up camp and enjoying the beauty of the natural setting after a long day of hiking. The trip lasted two weeks, but my learning experience that began on that hilltop continues to this day.
Deeply inspired, I returned to Cherry Hill the following year. This time, my lessons were not in wilderness skills, but in human compassion. Under a canopy of hardwood trees, my group swapped personal stories around a glowing campfire. I heard of depressions that ended lives, gun violence that shook communities, confessions that destroyed families- things that were never tangible to me as a privileged private school kid. This incredible opportunity to connect deeply with a variety of people made me more compassionate and considerate of the struggles of others.
On my next visit to Cherry Hill, I found myself immersed in one of the greatest books I have ever read: Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. My many experiences on the Hill allowed me to fully understand and internalize Leopold’s Land Ethic and devote myself to living in harmony with our natural spaces and treating the land as an essential part of my community. I went on to attend a semester at Conserve School, train as a volunteer steward for the UW-Madison Arboretum, and became an environmental activist – and all of these essential parts of my life can be traced back to my time spent on Cherry Hill. It is to me as “the Shack” is to Leopold, an unforgettable part of my life that has helped me realize the true beauty and serenity of nature.
Lucas LoBreglio is beginning his senior year at Madison West High School. Spending a life-changing semester at Conserve School shaped his current lifestyle which involves camping, hiking, and volunteering. He hopes to attend a college with a strong environmentalist community and find a career that expresses his love for nature and community-building.
Explore the rest of the winning essays!
Links will become available for the other winning essays as they are published to the blog.