Leopold argues that a conventional academic education blinds its students to the natural world. He praises the Clandeboye marsh, which has managed to avoid development, and remains in “the geological past,” a quality recognizable by the migrating birds that often land in it.
As he has argued before in the text, Leopold complains that conventional education narrows the minds of students, and makes them less likely to widely and carefully observe the natural world.
Leopold is especially excited by a western grebe that frequents the marsh. He criticizes a birder whom he feels does not fully appreciate the bird, checking it off a list and noting its bird call without understanding the bird was conveying some “secret message,” ready to be decoded by a careful listener. Leopold believes the grebe is an agent of history, a member of a species so old it can say “who won the battle of time.”
Leopold loves the grebe just like he loves geese and cranes—largely for their historical symbolism. He finds value in any species that reminds him of the birds’ ancestral past. Although they might soon lose a battle against humanity and human interventions in nature, Leopold respects the species’ long legacy.
Leopold is upset to see that the marshlands which once spotted the prairies are disappearing. Because marshes have little economic value, they are often converted to farmland. What many people do not realize is that both marsh and farmland can exist in harmony.
Leopold hates that marshes are seen as invaluable and subsequently destroyed. He believes they should be allowed to exist for their own sake, and that progress does not have to eliminate every patch of wilderness, in the same way he believes wilderness can be preserved without halting all progress.