Few writers are as renowned for their eloquence about the natural world, its power and fragility, as Sigurd F. Olson (1899-1982). Before he could give expression to The Singing Wilderness, however, he had to find his own voice. It is this struggle, the painstaking and often simply painful process of becoming the writer and conservationist now familiar to us, that Olson documented in the journal entries gathered here.
Written mostly during the years from 1930 to 1941, Olson’s journals describe the dreams and frustrations of an aspiring writer honing his skills, pursuing recognition, and facing doubt while following the academic career that allowed him to live and work even as it consumed so much of his time. But even as he speaks with immediacy and intensity about the conditions of his apprenticeship, Olson can be seen developing the singular way of observing and depicting the natural world that would bring him fameand also, more significantly, alert others to the urgent need to understand and protect that world. Author of Olson’s definitive biography, editor David Backes brings a deep knowledge of the writer to these journals, providing critical context, commentary, and insights along the way.
When Olson wrote, in the spring of 1941, “What I am afraid of now is that the world will blow up just as I am getting it organized to suit me,” he could hardly have known how right he would prove to be. It is propitious that at our present moment, when the world seems once more balanced on the precipice, we have the words of Sigurd F. Olson to remind us of what mattersand of the hard work and the wonder that such a reckoning requires.
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About the Author
David Backes is author of A Wilderness Within: The Life of Sigurd F. Olson and editor of Olson’s The Meaning of Wilderness: Essential Articles and Speeches, both from Minnesota. In 2015 he retired as professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
Table of ContentsContents
Introduction: Wild Calling
A Private Wilderness
The Winter of Renewal: January-March 1930
Quiet Desperation: April-December 1930
Reluctant Ecologist: April 1931-January 1932
Unsettled in Ely: September 1932-October 1934
Farewell to Saganaga: October 1934-August 1935
The Dean: September 1935-September 1937
Grandmother’s Trout: October 1937-February 1939
We Used to Sing: March 1939-February 1940
Big Brother’s Big Idea: February-December 1940
America Out of Doors: January-May 1941
Casualty of War: May 1941-March 1944
Medium Again: April 1944-November 1946
A New Life in Conservation: December 1946-October 1947
The Singing Wilderness: April 1949-February 1954