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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.


Wisconsin Aldo Leopold Writing Contest: Lessons from the Good Oak

Over the next month, we are pleased to be able to bring you a selection of the winning essays from the 2016 Wisconsin Aldo Leopold Writing Contest here on the Building a Land Ethic blog. Learn more about this contest and read another winning essay in last week’s post


Lessons from the Good Oak

By Margaret Mary Serchen
Grade 10, Home School, New Berlin

How often do we stop to reflect upon the details: food and its origins, heat and its sources? In today’s busy world, light is available at the touch of a button, and heat at the turn of a knob. Modern conveniences are insidiously removing our dependence on the land, providing a false sense of self-reliance. Within the cycles of nature, I recognize a dependence deeper than a reliance on the grocery store and furnace. Aldo Leopold wrote of “spiritual danger”. As I see it, “spiritual danger” is a complacency which numbs our spirits from the true connection and interdependence of every living creature. Will we protect the land if we do not understand, respect, or appreciate it? What will we learn from our heritage, and what legacies will we leave for future generations?


Charles Schwartz’s sketch of a chickadee resting on the block used to split the “good oak.” The sketch accompanies Leopold’s essay in A Sand County Almanac.

Complacency may appear easy; avoiding Leopold’s “spiritual danger” requires physical and mental effort. Likewise, realizing the connection between sunlight and heat in winter requires sawing, splitting, hauling, and shivering in the cold before the log bursts into flame. Awareness of our connections to the land leads to appreciation, and appreciation to respect.

How can we rekindle our awareness? By imitating the “Good Oak”. Discover anew the beauty of nature’s phenology, consciously growing with “the land.” Soak up the sunshine of little gifts such as bluebirds on a split-rail fence. Consider each person’s place in the living community. Finally, share the stored sunlight with others on dark winter days when, shivering, they wonder why the furnace is not warming their heart.

Eastern Bluebird, Lessons from the Good Oak

Image by Frank Boston via Flickr

For my family, this “reawakening” has meant a continual realignment of priorities and a renewed study of “the land”. Last summer, we tended beehives along with our annual garden. I taught young friends how to plant, water, and wait, then rejoiced with them as pea plants sprouted and the first radish was divided six ways. Since I have been little, we have purchased our food from local farms, preparing meals from scratch even when time is limited. On family hikes, we explore nature’s beauty and share with friends. Delving into the gifts of the land, we soak up knowledge gleaned from mentors and personal experience. Through imitation of the Good Oak, my awareness, appreciation and respect continue to deepen. Although we have wandered from the land, we will continue to return to our roots, for when we are firmly planted, like the Good Oak, we truly thrive.

About the Author

margaret-mary-serchenMargaret Mary Serchen is a home schooled sophomore who lives in the Milwaukee area.  As a “life learner”,  she enjoys school, field trips, and time spent in nature.  Her family raises honeybees and a large vegetable garden, and she enjoys growing, harvesting, and preparing her own food.  In addition to these hobbies, Margaret Mary enjoys playing violin and piano, hiking, canoeing, nature journaling, learning the Chinese language, and exploring the world through literature, science, and mathematics. 

Explore all the winning essays!

Week 1: “Rest,” Cries the Chief Bean Picker!

Week 3: Rings of History and Good Oak

Week 4: Environmental Rings