It all started over a pair of trumpeter swans with a late-hatching cygnet on Sailor Creek Flowage in the Township of Fifield in Price Co., WI who some of us were monitoring hoping the cygnet would get its flight feathers before ice-over. I am happy to report the cygnet has now reached flight stage and will soon be migrating south with its parents.

Our concern for the cygnet, a young swan, prompted a communication from me to Sumner Matteson, an Avian Ecologist with the Natural Heritage Conservation program of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Madison. I contacted Sumner because he led Wisconsin’s successful trumpeter swan recovery program now reporting about 11,000 of these magnificent birds in our great state. Sumner assured me that he thought the late-hatching cygnet would be able to fly before ice comes and, if not, some action could be taken to save the juvenile bird.

During my communication with Sumner, I learned about a very ambitious project that he is working on during his personal time to document the lives, values, and experiences of Wisconsin naturalists. AFIELD, Portraits of Wisconsin Naturalists, Empowering Leopold’s Legacy, Volume One, published in 2020, is the first result of that effort.

Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948) was an American author, philosopher, naturalist, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book, A Sand Country Almanac (1949), which has been translated into fourteen languages and has sold more than two million copies. If you haven’t read it, it is a must read for anyone interested in developing a land ethic by learning ways we can all use to care for the life-giving land we live on.

Having gone to the University of Wisconsin—Madison myself and taking courses from professors who knew and/or worked with Aldo Leopold and knowing many of the naturalists appearing in Volume one, I got very excited about reading Sumner’s book. Some of you may also be interested in reading the book, a Midwest Book Gold Award Winner. Volume One can be ordered from Little Creek Press by clicking on or using this website link: http://littlecreekpress.com/

Here is some background information about Sumner’s book project in his own words.

“Over forty years in the making, I’d like to introduce you to AFIELD, Portraits of Wisconsin Naturalists, Empowering Leopold’s Legacy (Volume One). Curt Meine (Leopold’s biographer) wrote the Foreword. This 728-page book features 19 naturalists, most of whom I interviewed during 1979-2017, beginning with Sigurd Olson. While away from my day job as the state’s avian ecologist, I devoted much time in the early morning and evening to writing Volume One.

“The writing and production of Volume Two will occur during 2022-2023, with expected publication of Volume Two no later than January 2024. A tax-deductible check to support the estimated publication cost of $15k for Volume Two can be made out to: Northland College, with Wisconsin Naturalists Project on the memo line. Please send check to: Alan Brew, Executive Director, Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, 1411 Ellis Ave., Ashland, WI 54806.

“Getting back to Volume One, there are 19 naturalists featured: Increase Lapham, Francis Zirrer, George Knudsen, Jim Zimmerman, Ruth Hine, Frances and Frederick Hamerstrom, George Becker, Lorrie Otto, Francis Hole, Sam Robbins, Bill Volkert, LeRoy Lintereur, Lois Nestel, Marion Moran, Joseph Martin Rose, Michael Van Stappen, Eric Epstein, and Sigurd Olson. I spoke with all but the first two. Nine are in the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame.”

The purpose of the book project is to promote natural history study and encourage engagement with the natural world across Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, and beyond. The book’s primary target audience: millennials, their parents, and grandparents. As Curt Meine wrote: “If we are to have a vital and strong environment, we must establish an environmental ethic based in part on the stories of those naturalists who have preceded us. That is exactly what Mr. Matteson’s informed book will do.”

The private Nature Education Center in Fifield, operated by Tom and Mary Lou Nicholls, is open seasonally by appointment only. Nicholls can be reached at nicho002@umn.edu.