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The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold.

Aldo Leopold's Wilderness: Selected Early Writings, edited by David E. Brown and Neil B. Carmony. Stackpole Books P.O. Box 1831, Harrisburg, PA 17105 (1990). Black-and-white photos, 250 pp. Hardcover, $18.95.

The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold, edited by Susan Flader and J. Baird Callicott. University of Wisconsin Pres, 114 N. Murray St., Madison, WI 53715-1199 (1991). 330 pp. Hardcover, $22.95.

If there are cracks in time, Aldo Leopold fell through one. Since he had the bad grace to die in 1948 at age 61, we lost a man who would have been among the two or three wisest voices in the American environmental movement. The proof of his powers is the fact that his voice has lived on through a single book with a much quiter title than The Population Bomb or The End of Nature. Leopold's Sand County Almanac is better researched and written and its basic truths will live longer than either of those exaggerated alarums. Now, after Leopold's centennial year, the Almanac is joined by two collections of his essays.

A few essays appear in both books, but the editors have different aims and different selection criteria. Flader and Callicott's larger book begins with a high-school essay by Leopold and ends the year before his death and the publication of the Almanac. Reading the essays is as fascinating as watching the accelerated film of a great tree growing.

Brown and Carmony choose a much smaller number of essays, and their commentaries are usually longer than Leopold's short pieces. This is not arrogance. The Leopold we see in these essays is a man who will disturb many conservations. He proposes eliminating predators to increase populations of game animals, and he mistook hard-used land for pristine habitat. The editors' commentaries after each essay explain why Leopold made mistakes and where the essay stands in the development of his thinking. But the most interesting parts are often updates on the landscape and wildlife Leopold observed 50 to 80 years ago--some places now radically changed, some esentially the same.

The year before his death, Leopold wrote an explanation of the class he often taught in wildlife ecology. He wrote that he would try to teach students "that this alphabet of 'natural objects' (soils and rivers, birds and beasts) spells out a story . . ." His ultimate motive was a belief that "We love (and make intelligent use of) what we have learned to understand." These two volumes will convey an understanding of Aldo Leopold that will allow us to cherish him as he deserves.

Leopold's readers will want to have both of these books.
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Article Details
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Author:Kaufman, Wallace
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:441
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