Dr. Özdağ Page

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 Dr. Özdağ's full report on her visit to Burlington, Iowa:                                                                   



Land Ethic Research and Application Center


 Reflections on my Visit to Leopold Landscape Alliance\

June 25-27, 2017, Burlington, Iowa

Ufuk Özdağ

 Dear Distinguished Aldo Leopold Foundation Board Members, Leopold Landscape Alliance Board Members, and Members of the Leopold Family,

 I visited Burlington, Iowa, the historically significant city of Aldo Leopold’s boyhood years, on June 25-27, 2017, upon the kind invitation of Leopold Landscape Alliance President, Steve Brower. Landscape architect, naturalist, and historian, Steve’s kind planning of the three-day-long visit, full of excursions to Leopold sites, and his informed explanations of Leopold’s early years, has been one of the most valuable trips of my life. In this three day long visit, I had the unique opportunity (as a Turkish Leopold scholar) to learn and explore the boyhood years of the guiding light that the United States and the world have been blessed with, for many decades.


It is now widely acknowledged that Leopold’s thoughts, words, and deeds are not for an age only, but for all time. His global impact became evident when his timeless book, A Sand County Almanac, was chosen as one of the ten books that changed the world (The Guardian, 7 August 2015).


The delegates of the Sixth World Wilderness Congress (1998) resolved that the 21st century be declared “the Century of Restoring the Earth.” More recently, Scott Russell Sanders, in his “A Conservationist Manifesto,” has made a forceful call for land restoration, saying “[c]onservation means not only protecting the relatively unscathed natural areas that survive, but also mending, so far as possible, what has been damaged” (211). Restoration of degraded lands and diminished wildlife populations is the grand legacy of Aldo Leopold. Therefore, I envision that Leopold will have a growing impact in “the Century of Restoring the Earth.” His thoughts, words, and deeds will be the Path for not only conserving lands but also restoring damaged lands, across the world.


My exploration of Leopold’s Burlington roots gave me many insights into the philosophy of Leopold, as it was here, also, that the seeds of nature love as well as “land restoration” were planted. During Aldo Leopold Foundation’s “Building a Land Ethic 2017” conference, I had the chance to listen to Steve’s presentation on the “Roots of the Land Ethic” which highlighted many aspects of Leopold’s early life. And during my Burlington visit, right after the conference, I had the chance to observe, through Steve’s guidance, the Leopold sites, particularly the historical location in front of the Starker Leopold House, the place where Leopold was first exposed to the idea of land restoration at about the age of seven, which must have moulded his entire life. Steve explained to me that in this very location, Leopold, with his parents, grandparents, and siblings, did woodland wildflower restoration by collecting seeds of the native plants. In line with this philosophy, the Leopold Middle School in Burlington Iowa (opened in 2010) has restored a tract of land in the frontyard of the school, and now this impressive “prairie garden” is being used for outdoor classes. It is a heart-warming development that the middle school students, at this early age, are getting exposed to not only nature love but also to the idea of “land restoration,” which will mould the lives of many young graduates, to impact the health of the planet.


Over the years, I have worked with the distinguished Aldo Leopold Foundation, and became witness to the effective spreading of the Land Ethic studies, from Baraboo Wisconsin to diverse corners of the world. At the Leopold Center, I saw the graceful ways in which land protection and land restoration are carried out—“weaving a land ethic into the fabric of our society” (ALF web page), in ways that I had never seen before. As a foreign scholar with an objective outlook, I’m imagining that, over the years, Leopold’s birth and childhood lands will also be immensely important to the future of this unique “land ethic” philosophy. Once this location is well-known and often-visited in the world (as is the Leopold Center in Baraboo, WI), it will contribute to the global Land Ethic heritage. It is wonderful that the Leopold Landscape Alliance has done tremendous work for the purchase of the Leopold Boyhood House. The next step could be the foundation of a possible “Leopold Education Center” in this very location. I’m imagining that once the Starker Leopold House, Leopold Boyhood House, and the Barn House in the middle, could operate in unison, LLA will be ready to host both national and international visitors travelling to Burlington to visit the “Leopold Education Center” (Starker Leopold House), “Visitor Center and Guest House” (Leopold Boyhood House), and Conference Hall (the Barn House in the middle of the two houses). As a matter of fact, the Barn House could start hosting educational seminars right away, if the present owners can kindly give the permission for the educational activities in such a critical time in the environmental history of the world.

As I have raised the humanities question, some think it was Aldo's classic secondary education that served as the source of his insight, that he took his books (metaphorically) into the woods to find meaning.  But, what I am actually saying is that much earlier, during primary education or sooner, the discovery of surprise & curiosity in the wilds created a good feeling, all stimulated within the family by connecting the humanities to nature through the adventure literature.  And he brought this to the school books. 

These are the words of Steve Brower (personal communication, July 10, 2017), who felt the energy in the Burlington air many decades ago. And now, having visited Leopold’s boyhood lands, I am convinced that this energy will pull more Leopold enthusiasts to this special city, in the near future. I share Steve’s idea that it is also the childhood years that has an impact on the evolution of a genious    (I will not repeat what Steve has written in his essay, “Aldo Leopold’s Youthful Discoveries” in The Leopold Atlas).


I believe that LLA’s educational activities in this meaningful atmosphere will be important, as well, for the future land stewards, as complementary activities to the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s diverse activities/events/conferences in Wisconsin, Baraboo. Both the national and the international Leopold enthusiasts will have a shelter in Burlington, once they arrive to explore the lands that had an early impact on the global land ethic philosophy. In this unique location where Leopold grew up, they will have the chance to explore Leopold’s whole story. The LLA in Burlington will also give the enthusiasts the unique opportunity to visit the tramping sites, the Crystal Lake Hunting Club, and many other locations that had a crucial role in the evolution of Leopold’s Land Ethic philosophy that is changing the world. An additional site of Leopold celebration is the Aldo Leopold Middle School Prairie Classroom, which has many components that recall Aldo’s experiences. For Aldo Lepold's home town region to impact global environmental conditions, I hope that LLA will receive the support to achieve its long-range goals.


May these ideas based on my visit to the Leopold Landscape Alliance, in Burlington, spark more conversations for deepening the roots of the grand Leopold heritage.

Cordially Yours,

Ufuk Özdağ, PhD

 Professor of American Culture & Literature, Director of Land Ethic Center

 Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey