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Leopold’s Shack and Ricketts’s Lab

Leopold’s Shack and Ricketts’s Lab: The Emergence of Environmentalism

Michael J. Lannoo
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 216
  • Book Info
    Leopold’s Shack and Ricketts’s Lab
    Book Description:

    Aldo Leopold and Ed Ricketts are giants in the history of environmental awareness. They were born ten years and only about 200 miles apart and died within weeks of each other in 1948. Yet they never met and they didn't read each other's work. This illuminating book reveals the full extent of their profound and parallel influence both on science and our perception of natural world today. In a lively comparison, Michael J. Lannoo shows how deeply these two ecological luminaries influenced the emergence both of environmentalism and conservation biology. In particular, he looks closely at how they each derived their ideas about the possible future of humanity based on their understanding of natural communities. Leopold and Ricketts both believed that humans cannot place themselves above earth's ecosystems and continue to survive. In light of climate change, invasive species, and collapsing ecosystems, their most important shared idea emerges as a powerful key to the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94606-4
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    At about 10:30 A.M. on Wednesday, April 21, 1948, north of Baraboo, Wisconsin, Aldo Leopold left the property he dubbed the Shack to fight a brush fire that threatened his beloved pine plantings, and perhaps the Shack itself. An hour or so later, a mile east of the Shack, while reinforcing a neighbor’s wetland as a firebreak, he had a heart attack, lay down, crossed his arms over his chest, and died.¹ According to his daughter Estella, who was nearby, the fire burned lightly over him. Leopold regularly carried in his shirt pocket a little notebook for recording his observations....

  6. CHAPTER ONE Out of the Midwest
    (pp. 8-13)

    Leopold and Ricketts shared a midwestern upbringing. Rand Aldo Leopold was born on January 11, 1887, in Burlington, Iowa, to first cousins Carl and Clara Leopold. Aldo was the eldest of four Leopold children; Marie was born in 1888, Carl Jr. in 1892, and Frederic in 1895. His father began his career as a traveling salesman, selling barbed wire to western ranchers, before settling down to run the Rand and Leopold Desk Company. And although “Carl had hardly ever used a desk, much less built one,” he was “a businessman of the highest integrity. His approach was as simple as...

  7. CHAPTER TWO From Forester to Professor
    (pp. 14-21)

    Aldo Leopold’s midwestern upbringing and Ivy League education had prepared him to be a professional, but even from the beginning of his career he showed signs of being much more than that. Curt Meine writes that as a young professional, Leopold was “competent, devoted, and eager.” And while it is true that as a graduate of the Yale School of Forestry he was a disciple of Gifford Pinchot, Leopold was different. His attitudes “were too independent to be dominated by anyone, or by any idea. He did not often express those attitudes; they were not yet fully developed, the prevailing...

  8. CHAPTER THREE From Businessman to Sage
    (pp. 22-31)

    Ed Ricketts sought to parlay his midwestern work ethic and his University of Chicago experiences into a career built on nature. After he left Chicago in 1923, Ricketts and his new family settled on the Monterey Peninsula. The year before, Libbie Hyman, a member of the faculty at the University of Chicago, had studied at the Hopkins Marine Station there, and Joel Hedgpeth speculates that it may have been her accounts of the rich seashore life that prompted Galigher and Ricketts to choose the region for their biological supply business; the abundant supply of starfish, worms, and jellyfish could support...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Game Management
    (pp. 32-35)

    Leopold’sReport on a Game Survey of the North Central Statesreceived nearly universally positive reviews. “No one,” says Curt Meine, “had ever packed so many facts about game and habitat into a single book.”¹ Leopold next envisioned a larger book as a companion to, and expansion on,Report on a Game Survey.² He conceived of the book as a much-needed unifying treatise detailing the history, theory, and practice of game management. He worked tirelessly, and for the first six months of 1931 did almost nothing but assemble the new manuscript.

    Later in 1931, the Sporting Arms and Ammunitions Manufacturers’...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Between Pacific Tides
    (pp. 36-42)

    Amid the ferment of philosophical ideas being explored by Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck, Joseph Campbell, and their friends at the Lab, practical interests were not neglected. Ricketts continued to work on his tide pool book, ultimately titledBetween Pacific Tides. Jack Calvin assisted in collecting, proofreading, editing, and providing photographs, while local artist Ritchie Lovejoy contributed detailed drawings of the animals (“. . . and weren’t they good!”).¹ Ed Jr. helped compile data for and create many of the book’s graphs and tables. He remembers the painstaking hours he spent making the circular chart that showed the seasonal diatom production...


    • [Intercalary I Introduction]
      (pp. 43-46)

      Up to this point in their lives, Leopold and Ricketts were, more or less, following high-end, traditional career paths. With the publication ofGame Management, Leopold invented the discipline of wildlife biology. And with the publication ofBetween Pacific Tides, Ricketts gave the growing West Coast population its first field guide to the Pacific shore.

      These accomplishments, by themselves, made both men notable in their time. But had they done these works and nothing else, their legacies most likely would have been as historical figures. As the founder of the discipline, Leopold’s name would have been the first mentioned in...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Shack
      (pp. 47-58)

      In 1933, when Leopold publishedGame Management, it was well received, especially among scientists, conservationists, and sportsmen. With this book he not only created an entirely new academic discipline, but when, on June 26, 1933, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation approved eight thousand dollars per year for five years to support a game management program, Leopold also finagled the first-ever academic appointment in wildlife biology, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.¹ TheNew York Times“hailed it as the one and only ‘wild game chair.’ ”²

      The question—for anybody, not just academics—is, How do you top the...

      (pp. 59-74)

      When Ed Ricketts arrived, the Monterey Peninsula was “still a quiet part of the world, a pleasant end of the road along one of the loveliest of seashores . . . not as different in 1923 from what Sebastian Viscaino had seen in 1602 as it is now.”¹ As Bruce Ariss colorfully describes it, Monterey Peninsula is heavily wooded, surprisingly small, and roughly circular. From Huckleberry Hill, looking only five miles in every direction, you can see the whole of its irregular and spectacular coastline. In an airplane “it looks like a bear’s head jutting out into the sea. Carmel...


    • [Intercalary II Introduction]
      (pp. 75-78)

      Leopold’s Shack and Ricketts’s Lab provided the settings for these men to transcend their professional philosophies and move into the realm of common experience. These are the places where we celebrate the spirit of the two men.

      Leopold’s Shack allowed him to be close to the environments he loved. It allowed him to observe, study, and engage with the natural world. Further, because Leopold was a solitary thinker, the Shack offered time for contemplation. Not only did the Shack experiences furnish him with much of the material forA Sand County Almanac, the place itself gave him the time to...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT A Sand County Almanac
      (pp. 79-87)

      In early July 1941, Leopold flew to the Delta Waterfowl Station in Manitoba, Canada, where he conferred with his former student and station director, Al Hochbaum. As Meine details, Leopold and Hochbaum had for some time spoken informally about working together on a book of essays.¹ Leopold was to provide the text, Hochbaum the drawings. By August 1941, plans for the book had become more definite, though the two men set no firm schedule. That fall, Leopold began crafting the first essays, drawing from his Shack experiences.²

      About the same time, Harold Strauss, an editor at Knopf, approached Leopold about...

    • CHAPTER NINE Sea of Cortez
      (pp. 88-98)

      In the spring of 1939, Ricketts’sBetween Pacific Tidesand Steinbeck’sGrapes of Wrathwere published.¹ Steinbeck was getting a lot of unwanted publicity, especially from conservative politicians and groups such as the Associated Farmers. He was shaken by assertions that he had exaggerated the plight of the Okies, and by being ostracized by Californians, especially former friends (except, of course, for Ed). On October 16, 1939, Steinbeck wrote, “Now I am battered with uncertainties. That part of my life that made the ‘Grapes’ is over.” He sought a solution: “I have one little job to do for the government,...


    • [Intercalary III Introduction]
      (pp. 99-102)

      For many people with an environmental perspective,A Sand County Almanacis a must, their favorite book of all time. For many others, it isSea of Cortez. What is astonishing about these breakthrough works is that their brilliance was not initially recognized. Early sales were not good.Sand Countysold steadily but not spectacularly; profits were sufficient to keep the book in print until society had been primed to accept it. Steinbeck’s name alone may have keptSea of Cortezafloat. Then, after Ricketts died, the narrative was reissued asThe Log from the Sea of Cortez, with a...

    • CHAPTER TEN Daily Lives and Professional Expectations
      (pp. 103-107)

      If Aldo Leopold and Ed Ricketts had ever shared the same shack (in fact, they never met and were probably unaware of each other’s existence),¹ there would have been every chance that at any particular point in the day, someone would have been awake. Neither slept much. Besides that, Leopold was a morning person to the extreme, awakening at 3:00 or 4:00 A.M. At the Shack he would make a pot of coffee, go outside, get out his notebook, and record birdsongs. In Madison, he’d walk to his office and put in a few hours before anybody else showed up....

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN From Natural History to Ecology
      (pp. 108-116)

      Much of what both Leopold and Ricketts pondered was the emerging discipline of ecology, and what ecology was beginning to tell us about humanity’s proper place in the world. They were considering their society’s emphasis on putting people above nature or outside of nature, and the derivative of this view, the human domination of nature—what people today call shallow ecology, wherein value is seen as residing in human beings, and nature is given merely use value or instrumental value.¹ Leopold and Ricketts contrasted this view with the one that they were developing, wherein human beings are viewed as an...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Leopold’s Approach
      (pp. 117-124)

      Nina Leopold Bradley wrote in her remembrance, “A Daughter’s Reflections,” “In an essay found among my father’s works, he had written, ‘there are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land.’ ”¹ More than anything else, it is this second interest that forms the basis of what we think about when his name is mentioned. And it is this curiosity that drove Leopold’s ecological thinking.

      Franklin Roosevelt’s adviser on soil, Hugh Hammond Bennett, wrote, “of all the countries in the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Ricketts’s Approach
      (pp. 125-131)

      While Leopold’s worldview was ecological and utilitarian (what J. B. Callicott has called a transformative vision), Ed Ricketts’s worldview was ecological and holistic (what Callicott calls a transcendent vision).¹ According to Richard Astro, Ricketts used the principles of ecology to grasp and understand the totality of things. His search for order was centered on a quest to find “our emotional relationship to the world conceived as a whole, . . . ‘a unified field hypothesis’ in which ‘everything is an index of everything else.’ ”² While most biologists, including Leopold, tended (and still tend) to view ecology as individuals having...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Shared and Complementary Perspectives
      (pp. 132-140)

      As noted above, throughout his life Leopold tended to be a loner, “not social, not antisocial.” His closest friends were found among his professional colleagues, graduate students, and family. He was a solitary thinker who returned to an early interest in wild game management after a long convalescence, and who later in life relied heavily on the personal observations and data gleaned from his Shack experiences. Leopold seemed to work on his ideas alone, waiting until they were formulated and composed to pass manuscripts around for comment. Most of Leopold’s major works did not involve direct collaboration. He was immersed...


    • [Intercalary IV Introduction]
      (pp. 141-144)

      Leopold and Ricketts were born into the age of natural history and as mature scientists helped to form the emerging discipline of ecology. In retrospect, we can see that the power of Leopold’s and Ricketts’s ecology derived from its foundation in the practices and preoccupations of natural history. But today, ecology has moved on, and much of it is no longer grounded in natural history. As Eric Engles has noted, since the late 1940s, ecology has drifted towards specialization, abstraction, theoretical modeling, and even reductionism, and this has been to its detriment as a discipline that can influence public policy...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Transcendence
      (pp. 145-150)

      On Thursday, April 22, 1948, Dan Thompson, one of Leopold’s students, and his research assistant were driving south along U.S. Highway 51 in northern Wisconsin when the news of Leopold’s death came over their car radio. Stunned, and perhaps thinking about nothing so much as an emptier and more questionable future, they drove a long way in silence.¹

      In the spring of 1948, Ed Ricketts had been making plans for another Outer Shores trip. In Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, Bill and Ruth White had just received a letter from him on Pacific Biological Laboratories stationery. It was newsy and...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Ethic and Engagement
      (pp. 151-155)

      Leopold formalized the mature view of his Land Ethic sixty years ago, and as a philosophy it garnered wide appreciation forty years ago. But appreciation is not acceptance. The impression is that all we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information and they will follow, en masse.¹ This certainly hasn’t happened. If the ecological ideas underlying the Land Ethic are true, and if they are right, and if they represent the most powerful idea of the twentieth century and the future of humanity depends on them, why haven’t these ideas been embraced by...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Where Their Spirit Lives On
      (pp. 156-160)

      The spirit of Leopold and Ricketts persists, and there is some welcome evidence that it may be growing. It lies, at its most basic, in shacks, buildings that provide access to nature but do not get in the way. It is there in the hundreds of “rubber boot” biologists, usually working alone and often with little fanfare at remote sites—often field stations. It is found after midnight, in the mist over a springtime wetland, with spring peepers calling close by and crawfish frogs in the distance. It is found in a couple of beers and a cool, late-night skinny...

    (pp. 161-162)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 163-188)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 189-196)