A Sand County Almanac

A Sand County Almanac

Wood Symbol Icon

Throughout the book, but especially in the first two sections (“A Sand County Almanac” and “The Quality of the Landscape”), Leopold looks to trees and wood in general as records of history, often comparing them to archives and libraries. This is made clear early in the Almanac when Leopold narrates the cutting down of a tree and, as he saws through each of the tree’s many rings, moves gradually backward in history, providing an account of various events that occurred during the tree’s lifetime. Trees provide clues about history based on how and where they grow. Trees form one ring each year, and the space between rings can indicate whether a given year was wet or dry, or even whether the tree sustained an injury. At one point, a tree that has grown in front of an abandoned barn door tells Leopold exactly how long it has been since the barn was regularly used. Similarly, healthy or sick trees can provide clues about the history of the soil, and the health of the landscape. In this way, trees and wood come to symbolize knowledge of the history of the land.

Wood Quotes in A Sand County Almanac

The A Sand County Almanac quotes below all refer to the symbol of Wood. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Time and History  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ballantine Books edition of A Sand County Almanac published in 1966.
Part I: February Quotes

Now comes the job of making wood. The maul rings on steel wedges as the sections of trunk are upended one by one, only to fall apart in fragrant slabs to be corded by the roadside.

There is an allegory for historians in the diverse functions of saw, wedge, and axe.

The saw works only across the years, which it must deal with one by one, in sequence. From each year the raker teeth pull little chips of fact, which accumulate in little piles, called sawdust by woodsmen and archives by historians; both judge the character of what lies within by the character of the samples thus made visible without. It is not until the transect is completed that the tree falls, and the stump yields a collective view of a century. By its fall the tree attests the unity of the hodge-podge called history.

The wedge, on the other hand, works only in radial splits; such a split yields a collective view of all years at once, or no view at all depending on the skill with which the plane of the split is chosen. (If in doubt, let the section season for a year until a crack develops. Many a hastily driven wedge lies rusting in the roods, embedded in unsplittable cross-grain.)

The axe functions only at an angle diagonal to the years, and this only for the peripheral rings of the recent past. Its special function is to top limbs, for which both saw and wedge are useless.

The three tools are requisite to good oak, and to good history.

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Related Symbols: Wood, Tools
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
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Wood Symbol Timeline in A Sand County Almanac

The timeline below shows where the symbol Wood appears in A Sand County Almanac. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part I: February
Time and History  Theme Icon
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
Leopold cut down the oak tree that is currently heating his home. He thinks back to when he harvested it,... (full context)
Time and History  Theme Icon
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The oak tree contains its own history in its rings. Leopold describes the sawdust as the tree... (full context)
Time and History  Theme Icon
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
Cutting through the tree, Leopold journeys back in time. He cuts through the years he has owned the farm... (full context)
Time and History  Theme Icon
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
Finally, Leopold has cut to the center of the tree, 1865. He cuts back out the other side, and the tree falls to the ground.... (full context)
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
Leopold reflects that he will return the ashes from the oak burning in his stove to the orchard. These ashes, in turn, will help fertilize apples,... (full context)
Part I: April
Time and History  Theme Icon
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The floods bring miscellaneous objects and scraps of wood to Leopold’s yard. In the wood especially, Leopold finds “an anthology of human strivings in... (full context)
Time and History  Theme Icon
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
Leopold concludes by reminding the reader that to own “a veteran bur oak” is to own “a historical library”—to have “a reserved seat in the theatre of evolution”... (full context)
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
...he calls the “sky dance.” The sky dance is a nightly dance by a male woodcock, who performs in the spring as the suns sets and early in the morning as... (full context)
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
Leopold sees the woodcock as a symbol of the grand utility of birds beyond their use as hunting targets.... (full context)
Part I: October
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
...spotted something, but he (Leopold) does not yet know what it is: a grouse, a woodcock, or a rabbit. He advises those who want to hunt with certainty to hunt pheasants... (full context)
Time and History  Theme Icon
...comes across an old abandoned farm. He can tell when it was abandoned because a young elm blocks the barn door, and the rings on the elm say it has been growing... (full context)
Part I: December
Time and History  Theme Icon
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
...Its year begins in May, when the bud or “candle” at the tip of the tree begins to grow. Leopold sees the pines as bankers or bookkeepers, always recording how much... (full context)
Part II: Illinois and Iowa
Time and History  Theme Icon
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
...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,”... (full context)
Part II: Arizona and New Mexico
Time and History  Theme Icon
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
...it every time he crossed it, the names and dates carved into many of the trees he passed told a different story. These dates stretched back in time, and allow Leopold... (full context)