Leopold accepts as “gospel truth” the saying “how miserable are the idle hours of the ignorant man!” He believes any man who wastes his leisure time is ignorant, and any man who uses it well is educated, but he clarifies that this education need not have come from a school. Leopold sees hobbies almost as a spouse—a companion to take with you through your life.
Recreation is the number one way Leopold interacts with the land. More than through scientific study or philosophy, Leopold connects with nature by getting out into it, and he believes others should too. For him, recreational activities are more than distraction; they are a moral and intellectual obligation that brings humans closer to the land they live on.
Leopold attempts to define a hobby. He decides to call it “a defiance of the contemporary,” a radical act that rejects progress and celebrates the past. A hobby is not something undertaken with a result in mind, but rather is undertaken for the joy of doing. In Leopold’s mind, a hobby is inherently against progress.
For Leopold, adopting a hobby is taking a stand against progress. Although he does not believe all progress is bad, he sees hobbies as a mindful way to more deeply engage with and appreciate the natural world.
Leopold tells a series of anecdotes about men he knew who made good use of their leisure time. First he recalls a merchant from childhood who would carve fossils out of local limestone. After he died, Leopold realized the man was a “world authority” on the subject of fossils. Next, he discusses a bank president who loved roses, and a man who made wheels but truly loved tomatoes, each ostensibly getting more joy from his hobby than his job.
Leopold sees hobbies as an ethical way to connect with the natural world. They take very little from the land, but enrich human lives and can potentially enrich the landscape as well. They also provide an alternative education for those who did not study the natural world, and arguably educate them better than school ever could.
Leopold proposes that falconry is the “most glamorous hobby” he knows. Hunting with a falcon is much less efficient than hunting with a gun, but Leopold argues that a hawk, when trained well, is a perfect weapon that surpasses anything man can make. Similarly, Leopold argues that using a longbow is a perfect hobby: less efficient than a gun, but requiring more time and skill to master. Leopold then amends his earlier definition of a hobby. He clarifies that a good hobby must involve some kind of risk, and must require the hobbyist to make something, or make the tools to make something else, “and then [use] it to accomplish some needless thing.”
Leopold believes that the most valuable hobbies are the ones that are the most challenging. He personally feels that the best hobbies take some task that has been mechanized, like hunting with a gun, and forces hobbyists to develop a skill instead, that makes the whole endeavor harder and more purposeful. This forces them to be more mindful of the things they try to kill, as well as forcing them to spend more time outdoors.