Visiting the Shack: Aldo Leopold, Ethics, and Sustainability

This website and blog, Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future, started in the spring of 2011 as a class project in the inaugural SUST 210 The Sustainable Future course at RU’s Schaumburg Campus. But its philosophical roots go back many decades, to the writings and conservation work of Aldo Leopold, whose seminal essay “The Land Ethic” argues that conservation is not merely a scientific enterprise, but fundamentally involves creating a more ethically sound relation between us and the natural environment.

Aldo Leopold’s cabin, a converted chicken coop (M. Bryson)

This summer while on a family vacation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, SUST prof Mike Bryson stopped by the Leopold Shack, located on the worn-out farm Leopold purchased near the Wisconsin River in the 1930s and began restoring with his family as a conservation experiment during his time as a science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The shack was a chicken coop that Leopold fashioned into a rustic cabin, and served as a weekend retreat as well as the setting for his classic book, A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There, published posthumously in 1949.

Now a National Historic Landmark managed by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, this humble shack — like Henry David Thoreau’s little cabin near Walden Pond outside of Concord, MA — not only has earned an enduring reputation as a site with great literary and historical significance, its humble nature and small scale are contemporary reminders of the importance of thrift and economy as the means for living lightly on the land.

On the edge of the clearing by the shack (M. Bryson)

In an age of supersized consumerism, the Leopold Shack shocks one into the realization that it is both possible and necessary to treat the landscape with respect by living lightly upon it, with acute knowledge of the impact we make daily upon soil, water, and fellow organisms.

For more photos of the Leopold Shack, see this album on the SUST Program’s Facebook page.

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