In the summer the Wilderness Society elects Sigurd to its governing council. Sigurd is among the conservation leaders working on drafts of a bill to establish a national wilderness preservation system. He remains on the board until In September President Lyndon B.
Johnson signs the Wilderness Act, establishing the national wilderness preservation system. Fearing a political firestorm, the agency buries the report, but the work behind it ultimately bears fruit in the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act of President Richard M.
Camus, Albert | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Nixon signs into law the act establishing Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota; Sigurd had played an important role as an advocate of the park since the early s, and he also gave the park its name. Also in , a new elementary school in the Minneapolis suburb of Golden Valley is named after Sigurd. However, he never fully regains his strength. Of Time and Place is published.
Introduction David Backes S igurd olson was not the first American to discuss the spiritual values of wilderness, nor was he the most scholarly. He simply was the most beloved wilderness advocate of his generation.
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Something in his bearing had a strong effect on people. It was a combination of gracefulness, poise, confidence, and an engaging voice. His wife, Elizabeth, recalled times when Sigurd entered a room and everyone rose as if on cue, heads straining to see him. And when he spoke, people hung on to his words.
Lawrence—or L. He had little sympathy for amusements. One time he discovered that Sigurd and his older brother, Kenneth, had saved up money and bought a chess set. Whether it was because of this background or in spite of it, as a young adult Sigurd nearly became a missionary.
But during this same period, doubts about his calling and his faith assailed him. The night before he was to publicly make his commitment to the missionary life he climbed to the roof of the YMCA building where he lived, looked out over Lake Mendota and up at the stars, and struggled with his conscience. He decided that his fascination with the missions had more to do with his interest in visiting the wild places of the world than with saving souls.
When he came down from the roof the next morning, he resigned from the organization, and in effect also broke from his Baptist faith. For years afterward, he was obsessed with what he called his search for meaning. His only hope for happiness was to recover a sense of mission. Before that could happen, however, he needed to regain his faith in a greater power. He found it, of course, in nature.
By then Sigurd was married, had the first of his two sons, and lived in the northern Minnesota city of Ely at the edge of what is now called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which borders the Quetico. He taught biology at the local high school, and then at Ely Junior College, where he later became dean. During summers he made extra money and satisfied his craving for the outdoors by working as a guide for a local outfitting company.
One summer evening, camped on an island in Robinson Lake, Sigurd got into his canoe after dinner and paddled to the nearby eastern shore of the lake where there was a peak with a gorgeous view of the wilderness to the west. Sigurd climbed to the top in time to watch the sunset and experienced a deep communion with nature.
Years later, he described it in his first book, The Singing Wilderness, in a passage that set the tone not only for that book but for the message he brought in all of his books and speeches: As I watched and listened, I became conscious of the slow, steady hum of millions of insects and through it the calling of the whitethroats and the violin notes of the hermit thrushes.
But it all seemed very vague from that height and very far away, and gradually they merged one with another, blending in a great enveloping softness of sound no louder, it seemed, than my breathing. The sun was trembling now on the edge of the ridge. It was alive, almost fluid and pulsating, and as I watched it sink I thought that I could feel the earth turning from it, actually feel its rotation. Over all was the silence of the wilderness, that sense of oneness which comes only when there are no distracting sights or sounds, when we listen with inward ears and see with inward eyes, when we feel and are aware with our entire beings rather than our senses.
The exterior, formal layers of their business personas were gradually peeled away, and they would begin to laugh and sing and experience a deep peace. Like Sigurd, they became reconnected to the grand, eternal mystery of creation. The result was a widespread, if often vague, discontent, partially hidden underneath fast-paced lives, yet also fed by that same fast pace that left little time for reflection.
The Meaning of Wilderness : Essential Articles and Speeches by Sigurd F. Olson (2001, Hardcover)
Sigurd knew that the silence and the solitude and the noncivilized surroundings of wilderness provide a physical context in which people can more easily rediscover their inner selves. Just as important, wilderness gives people a chance to feel the presence of a universal power that science can never explain but that brings meaning to their lives. It may come as a slow realization after long periods of waiting. Whenever it comes, life is suddenly illumined, beautiful, and transcendent, and we are filled with awe and happiness.
By the s he was a beloved environmental figurehead whose name and image evoked strong feelings. Often photographed with a pipe in his hand and a warm, reflective expression on his weathered face, he was not just a hero but an icon. His books were read on public radio, his portrait was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine, and awards almost routinely came his way. Yet the recent publication of his biography and the first republication of his books in paperback format have sparked a resurgence of interest in this onetime wilderness icon.
Why should they? The times clearly have changed since Sigurd wrote his books. Wilderness writers of his generation routinely used masculine pronouns.
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The editors of such publications as Sports Afield, Field and Stream, and Outdoor Life rejected articles of his that they felt contained too much philosophy and not enough action. While there is no evidence that he was ever told to use masculine pronouns, it was the expected practice, and so common he probably never even thought about it. After several decades of writing this way, it is not surprising that he continued to do so.
Even so, Sigurd believed that women in general were more xxiv Introduction likely to understand and appreciate his essays than the men of his time, whom he thought were too action-oriented. He often worked with the Girl Scouts in Ely, and he frequently outfitted canoe parties of women. Also, he did on at least one occasion write an article meant to combat the idea that women should stay out of the wilderness.
Again, Sigurd must be placed in the context of his times—his audiences were almost entirely white, and middle class or higher. Even today it must be admitted that for whatever reasons, minorities are underrepresented among any random selection of people who visit wilderness areas or read nature essays. In general, he wrote favorably of, and even romanticized, the one minority group he ever mentioned, Native Americans.
Wilderness users are primarily among the educated elite, rather than the economic elite, while readers of nature essays are probably among the elite in both categories. When Sigurd worked as a guide, his clients were primarily white-collar professionals from urban areas. As a conservationist, he worked primarily among the educated and economic elite. Yet once again, whenever Sigurd wrote about people who were not among the social elite, he wrote favorably and even romanticized them.
Introduction xxv Among his most cherished role models were farmers, loggers, guides, and trappers, including a man who had served time for murder and later was pardoned. And his strong support of hunting put him at odds with many of the social elite of his era, and at times with his conservation colleagues. Those inclined to answer no might make the following charges, all of which I have encountered occasionally from scholars only, I might add during the years I have spent writing and speaking about him: His knowledge of ecology rests on a hopelessly dated perspective, and so his ecological arguments in favor of wilderness preservation are flawed.
He is anthropocentric. He is unoriginal. As a graduate student at the University of Illinois in the early s, Sigurd learned an organismic ecological perspective that lent itself to inductive reasoning rather than to the reductive methods of modern science. He learned that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that an ecosystem can reach a point in its development—the climax community— where change is minimal, and harmony reigns supreme.
In fact, however, the organismic perspective became outdated during his lifetime. By World War II ecological research had grown far more reductive, increasingly relying upon quantitative analysis and rigorous scientific methodology. The organismic perspective leads to the view that nature is best managed by letting it manage itself. Forest Service official in The wind was in my favor and I froze, waiting.
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