A Sand County Almanac

A Sand County Almanac

A Sand County Almanac Part II: Illinois and Iowa Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Taking a bus through the Illinois countryside, Leopold watches a farmer and his son cut down a tree. Leopold remarks that a tree “is the best historical library short of the State College,” but because once a year the tree sheds on the farmer’s house, the farmer has decided it must be cut down. The State College offers advice about trees that are easier to cohabitate with, but Leopold believes its suggestions are all intended to “make Illinois safe for soybeans,” and nothing else.  
Leopold is always looking at the world as an educational resource. Trees, especially, hold history within them, and, in Leopold’s mind, should be treated with great respect. Leopold even prefers the knowledge held within trees to the knowledge taught at local schools. He worries that the state college is teaching its students not to love the land, but how to best monetize it, which often requires acting against the best interest of the wild landscape.  
Themes
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Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
On the bus, Leopold observes only a thin slice of prairie between the road and the fences of the fields that flank it. He suspects he is the only one who notices this “relic” of what Illinois used to be. He also suspects that the local farmers have not spent time considering why the land produces as much corn as it does, or even what the names of many local flowers are.
Leopold loves the wild prairie and is always seeking out slices of it. Like in Wisconsin, there are strips of unmowed grass throughout Illinois and Iowa. Leopold believes that few people appreciate the natural prairie’s value. However, he knows that a closer study of the flora would help farmers better understand the soil for agriculture.
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Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
The bus enters the Green River Soil Conservation district. Leopold notes that a creek has been redirected into a straight line “uncurled” by an engineer to speed its journey. Similar, nearby hills have been engineered to reduce and slow agricultural run off. Leopold jokes, “the water must be confused by so much advice.”
Leopold believes that the natural world can easily regulate itself, and is often skeptical of the effectiveness of human intervention. Here, the straightened stream moves faster than before, but then the hills must be modified to prevent it from moving too quickly. In this instance human “progress” simply created an entirely new problem that more progress must then fix.
Themes
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The Value of the Land Theme Icon
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
The farm Leopold visits is clearly wealthy, as evidenced by fresh paint and well-fed animals. However, Leopold wonders about the ecological cost of the farm’s wealth. He suspects there are no quail in the cornfields, and he notices no animal activity on the creek beds. He wonders “Just who is solvent? For how long?”
Although the farm he visits is financially rich, Leopold is not impressed. He understands that the value of a landscape cannot be determined by its success as farmland, and further knows that even its success as farmland is not always long-lived. He also personally gets great joy from the wild animals on his property, and so finds this (technically rich) land to be lacking value. 
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Listening to other passengers talk on the bus, Leopold infers that to them, “Illinois has no genesis, no history”—it is simply a state to pass through on the way to something bigger and better.
Although Leopold always seeks out the history of a place he visits, he realizes that not everyone is as attuned to the natural world as he is.
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Reflecting back on his childhood, Leopold wonders if children are actually more developed than adults, more attuned to the wonders of the natural world. His memories of the natural world as a child are more vivid than any impressions formed as an adult.
Based on his observations of his fellow passengers, who seem uninterested in the natural world, Leopold suspects, as he often does in the book, that growing old and receiving an education in fact turns people away from the wonders of the natural world.
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Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
Leopold recounts a story of killing a duck after waiting by a hole in an iced-over pond, the first strategic kill he made as a child. Then he discusses a partridge he killed, an impressive kill because he caught it in mid air. He suspects his adult affinity for certain local plants came from the plants present in the grove in which he killed the partridge.
Leopold will later set forth an idea of the importance of recreation, and the best types of recreation. One type is hunting, but in a way that requires skill, patience, and thoughtfulness. This way of extracting value from the land likely was informed by Leopold’s childhood experiences, such as hunting by this pond.
Themes
The Value of the Land Theme Icon