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  • Writer's pictureLouisa Willcox

Episode 35 - Estella Leopold, Part 1

Estella Leopold

This is the first of four podcasts from a fascinating interview I did last summer with Estella Leopold, the last remaining offspring of American conservation icon, philosopher and writer Aldo Leopold, who’s considered by many to be the father of wildlife ecology and the United States wilderness system. Estella, who inherited his scientific and storytelling gene, is a force of nature herself. She embodies the kind of grace, humility and generosity of spirit that are increasingly endangered today. And she offers here insights about her father, her family and herself that no amount of reading can give.

This interview covers the span from the turn of the last century to the present. From Bikini Atoll in Micronesia and China’s Yangtze River to the wilds of Mexico and the woods of Wisconsin. She covers everything, rom wilderness, fire ecology, forests and cows to ancient pollen, pikas and pet crows. She shares delightful stories about her own career as an internationally acclaimed paleobotanist and conservationist, and well as the next talented generation of Leopolds. Plus she’s fun. In fact, I haven’t heard the word “fun” so much in a long time or “love,” which are central themes in the lives of the Leopolds.


"We’d sit around the dining room table and Dad would say: “Now what did you learn today that was of interest, Estella?” Or Carl, or whomever. And we’d start the conversation, and he’d keep asking questions."

"And Dad would walk home every day for lunch during the week, and he would ome through the front door, and Mother would come to greet him always looking very fresh and wonderful. And then they would hug, sometimes for a long time in the front hall, and we children, we would wait until it was our turn to hug Dad."

"He got into bird song sequence. He didn’t sleep very well. He would wake up at all hours of the morning, 3 o clock, and get up and go outside with his coffee cup, and build a fire and sit by the fire out front in the summer, and listen to the birds... And pretty soon he ordered a light meter, so that as each bird came in to song, he would record the amount of light available at the camp site from the rising sun and tying it to the bird song that was beginning at that time. He got these all organized in terms of their sequence in the morning."

"A lot of what we’re talking about is an understory of love. You look at Sand County Almanac. Someone commented that there were more uses of the word “love” in Sand County Almanac and in Dad’s literature than many other writers. He was really focused on the connection -- moral and mental connection with nature -- and love is that connection."

"He certainly had an epiphany by visiting the German forests… where he discovered to his dismay that the German forests were all manicured. And everybody walked through and picked up all the sticks on the ground and tried to plant all the trees in absolute rows. And from then on, he said: “Let’s have natural reestablishment of vegetation at The Shack.'”


Saved in Time: The Fight to Establish Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado by Estella B. Leopold and Herbert Meyer

Stories From the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited by Estella B. Leopold

A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River by Aldo Leopold

The River of the Mother of God: and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold, edited by Susan L. Flader and J. Baird Callicott

For the Health of the Land: Previously Unpublished Essays and Other Writings By Aldo Leopold, edited by J. Baird Callicott and Eric T. Freyfogle

Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work by Curt Meine


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