New Fall Class On-Site in Wisconsin


When I first moved to Chicago from Alaska, what I missed most was the mountains.  I grew up under the high peaks of the Chugach Range, and the flatlands of the Midwest seemed strange to me.  Years later, I found that, even if there aren’t mountain peaks near Chicago, there is a hilly landscape in Wisconsin that is unlike anything else in the Midwest.

Called the “Driftless Area,” it was never covered by glaciers. So, instead of being flat as an ironing board, the land has steep hills and valleys that have been slowly eroding away for a half-million years.  It’s the land where the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright was born.  And it was one of the most important places for the field of environmental ethics as well.

In the middle of the 20th century, Aldo Leopold and his family bought a degraded farm in the “sand counties” of central Wisconsin that had only a chicken coop on it.  In the process of restoring the land with his family, Leopold wrote a book about what he observed around him.  A Sand County Almanac is now considered a classic, and the old chicken coop still stands amidst a majestic pine forest, each tree planted individually by one of the Leopolds.

That “shack” and the nearby Legacy Center, the greenest building in the world, will be the site of a new four-day intensive class in Environmental Ethics that I  have designed to share this beautiful piece of American landscape and history with SNL students.  The course, which covers the required competences of A-4 and S-4, meets October 7-10.

Students will reside at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison from Thursday noon through Sunday, where they will have the opportunity to explore the restored prairie and the energy-efficient buildings on the site. Two all-day field trips will take students to the Leopold Center, the International Crane Foundations (from which cranes are guided by ultralight each fall to winter grounds in Florida), and the Dane County Farmers Market (listed by the New York Times as the nation’s best such market).   A $375 fee for the course covers food, lodging and transportation during the course; this is additional to tuition, which is based on number of competences taken (one or two).  For further details on the class, please contact  me at at

Questions about human impact on the environment have been much in the news in the last ten years.  Fifty years ago, a Midwestern scientist took the first steps in creating a national discussion of such questions.  Aldo Leopold, one of the most important figures in American environmental thinking, spent most of his life in Wisconsin, where he restored a degraded farm in the “sand counties” near Madison and where he wrote his books and essays that articulated a “land ethic” that still forms the basis of most writings on environmental ethics.

This experiential class focuses on readings from Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, including his important essay, “Thinking Like a Mountain” as well as readings from John Muir, who grew up in nearby Portage, Wisconsin.  Students will visit the Leopold Center, the world’s greenest building, as well as the famous “shack” where Leopold lived and wrote.  They will also tour the Crane Foundation, which works with endangered waterbirds around the world.  A visit to one of America’s largest farmers’ markets, followed by a sustainable lunch at a Wisconsin restaurant, will provide ideas on how Leopold’s philosophy can be brought into daily life.  During the class, students will reside at Holy Wisdom, a retreat center with a restored prairie in Madison.

The area to be visited is unique in the Midwest.  Most of the prairie land in the region was formed when vast glaciers crushed the land flat during various Ice Ages in the past.  But a small area of southwestern Wisconsin, northwestern Illinois, and eastern Minnesota were never glaciated.  There, the hill-and-stream erosion of more than 400,000 years has led to a quite different environment than the surrounding area.  Called the “Driftless Area” (because there was no glacial “drift” or dust), the region is famously scenic and was home to the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose designs reflect the landscape of the region. As the course will be held in autumn, we may anticipate beautiful colors in the deciduous forests.


One Response to “New Fall Class On-Site in Wisconsin”

  1. New Fall Course: Environmental Ethics Intensive « Connections Says:

    […] More info and course description here. […]

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