Every March people in the La Crosse area (and in several other Wisconsin communities) gather to celebrate Leopold Days. Fans of A Sand County Almanac come together, meet at local nature centers and on various nature trails, to publicly read passages from Aldo Leopold’s environmental classic. This year my daughter Clare and I participated in the event. We did so, not by simply reading from A Sand County…,  but by blending Leopold’s famous essay “The Good Oak” with my own published essay titled “The Good Oak Redux.”

Back in January I did a public reading from my book Essays to My Daughter on Our Relationship With the Natural World. Local environmentalist Chuck Lee attended that reading and asked if I’d be willing to read one of the Leopold chapters for Leopold Days. He even suggested that I somehow combine my Good Oak chapter with Leopold’s Good Oak chapter, and I immediately realized a perfect hook would be to include Clare in the event. She and I could alternate passages, I reading from my essay and Clare reading from Leopold. 

The event went well. Clare was outstanding, even adapting on the fly when her dad (supposedly the one more accustomed to being in front of an audience) messed up and accidentally deviated from the script. The success of our reading, however, is not what stands out in my mind. Two other things left a stronger impression.

One was that nearly all of the sixty attendees were my age or older. I am sixty-eight years old. What should I make of this? Are young people not interested in listening to others read aloud?  Do young people not know who Aldo Leopold is? Can I just assume that people not yet of retirement age have more interesting things to do on a Saturday afternoon?

The second thing to leave an impression on me was that Clare’s boyfriend Chase surprised her by showing up just before my daughter and I took the stage. He had an important commitment in Madison that night, so wasn’t supposed to attend. However, he drove two and a half hours Saturday morning, sat through Clare’s reading in La Crosse in the early afternoon, then immediately jumped back in his car to make it back in time for his evening obligation. I don’t know what impressed me more – Clare’s calm demeanor in front of a crowd or Chase’s commitment to my daughter by making the effort to be there.

I do not enjoy public speaking. I still occasionally do it, partly out of a sense of civic responsibility and partly because something positive sometimes comes of it. Maybe I meet someone who becomes a colleague or a friend. Maybe it leads to an invitation to write an article for a journal or magazine. This time I saw Clare in a very positive light and I witnessed firsthand the classy and loving way Clare’s boyfriend treats her. I’m not sure it gets any better than that.  

Steven Simpson