This is a picture of a Leopold bench, designed by the great American conservationist Aldo Leopold. It is a study in simplicity and function – a couple of 2×6 boards, six carriage bolts and a dozen screws. That’s it.
When most people sit on it, they comment how comfortable it feels. The backrest nestles the back just right, the tilt of the legs rests the torso, and your feet are solidly on the ground. Leopold put some thought into his bench.
Aldo Leopold was not a furniture designer by trade, but a biologist who spent his entire career in the field of conservation. A man of many talents, he helped create modern conservation and wildlife management by introducing field science into the practices of conservation. He also wrote one of the great modern-day pieces of nature literature, “A Sand County Almanac”.
Leopold’s bench is a concrete example of his ideas about people treading lightly on the earth. As far back as 1910, Leopold championed his philosophy by creating the conservationist’s concept of “wilderness”, in which large swaths of land would be protected from any encroachment by humanity. Echoing Leopold’s notion of “an intelligent humility towards Man’s place in nature,” his bench is made of treated lumber and simple hardware, using as little resources as is necessary. It is not to be painted or stained, but left to weather naturally until it disintegrates and returns to the earth.
Leopold’s benches dotted his 60-acre family retreat in Sand County, where he, his wife, and five children would vacation or spend long weekends. Leopold died in 1948 at the age of 61, while fighting a brush fire on a neighbor’s land. One of his elder children told C decades later that a few of the benches her father made were still standing.
Some say that Leopold was a martyr for the faith of conservation and his humble sense of community regarding humanity’s place in the world. He wrote in “A Sand County Almanac”:
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
It is something to ponder. After all, we all are part of the “biotic community”, and should strive to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the human community, and avoid anything that tends otherwise. I hope we can live up to Leopold’s example of treading lightly in this world, and his willingness to live for others.
NOTE: if you wish to make your own Leopold bench, you can find examples and free plans for it by googling “Leopold’s bench”.