Leopold, a Model Forest, and hand-crafted reflections

Written by Jared Nunery, Orleans County Forester
Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation

On a late Saturday afternoon in October, a dozen people gathered at the Lydia Spitzer Demonstration Forest. This Forest Stewards Guild Model Forest is located at the NorthWoods Stewardship Center in Charleston, Vermont. Although workshops are a common weekend activity at this Model Forest, this afternoon participants gathered for a unique opportunity to collaborate as a community to construct a Leopold Bench and reflect on the works of Aldo Leopold.

The day began with a discussion on the meaning of the bench for the Leopold family, with words shared from Guild member, Jed Meunier, who reflected on the bench as a symbol of the uncanny ability of Aldo Leopold to listen, reflect and be present. The skill of simply being present is becoming less practiced and rarer than ever in our modern society, overwhelmed in the age of instant gratification. Yet the process of reflection and being present is a critical component to the development and appreciation of a land ethic. 

These themes weaved through discussions spanning the afternoon, during which the small community of landowners, teachers, foresters, and students collaboratively built benches from lumber harvested a few hundred feet from the workshop location. The day ended with a discussion of the relevance of the Sand County Almanac and specifically the Land Ethic, in our society today.  It is hard to believe that so many decades ago, Leopold wrote “the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land.” Participants headed home, with a new bench in hand and the words of Leopold fresh in their minds, in hopes that they will each have the chance to enjoy their bench, reflect on their observations, be present where they are, and hopefully never “outgrow” land as described by Leopold so many years ago.

Thank you to Jared Nunery and the Vermont Land Trust for the photos in this article. The recently constructed bench shown above is placed over the stump of the tree from which the lumber was milled to build the bench.