As part of our overnight field trip to Prairiewoods we dipped into the works of Aldo Leopold. We capitalized on a special opportunity to bring some of his essays to life via first hand experience and a special guest discussion-leader. On Wednesday afternoon we read from “A Sand County Almanac” led by our professor’s friend Devin, a Rangeland Ecologist from Iowa State University who often used Leopold’s writings in classes that he taught. The next morning, we drove 2 hours Northeast to Wisconsin to visit the monument described by Leopold in his essay “On a Monument to the Pigeon.”
The monument was located on a bluff in a state park overlooking the upper-Mississippi river valley. We enjoyed lunch atop the bluff with a remarkable view of the valley, including up-close and personal sightings of turkey vultures and an eagle flying by. After lunch I visited the monument then continued along the trail across the ridge of the bluff. Along the trail I passed printed landmarks indicating the great history of the rout I was walking; it had been a travel rout of the Native peoples for millennia and was later used by early Christian missionaries, fur trappers, and settlers. “Under the gun” with the bus leaving at 2:30pm I took off down the trail at 1:45pm to see what the trip would be like from the top down to the river. I was forewarned that the grade and terrain weren’t for the faint of heart and I set out intending to free my bones from the lethargy of sitting (on the bus, at lunch, in discussion) and race my heart down and up. It was exhilarating, moving, and profound for many reasons. The simple feeling of being on the trail and on the bluff was steeped in a beautiful and nostalgic sense of sadness and history from the Native American burial mounds and symbolic earthwork that lined the top ridge symbolizing the significance and meaning of the trail, the valley, and surrounding ecology and life. The history of the “Monument to the Pigeon” could thus been seen, felt, and touched in the context of many layers of history going back far beyond our written records.