Forgotten Book: Wilderness Days by Sigurd Olson

this is the 253rd in my series of forgotten or seldom read books

Wilderness Days by Sigurd Olson, Alfred A. Knopf (a Borzoi Book) ©1972, this 7th printing 1984, hardcover
non-fiction – essays on nature

wilderness-daysI find reading about nature soothing. Part of it is my being an armchair naturalist. I’d rather read about the caribou migration than be there in the cold and swarms of blackflies. But it’s more than that. The insights contained in a book like this put the world into perspective for me, reminding me of how richly textured it is, how much more of it exists than what I see on a daily basis. It’s refreshing.

“My wilderness is concerned with the simple joys, timelessness, and perspective found in a way of life close to the past. I have heard the song of the wilderness in the beautiful lake region of the Quetico-Superior, where travel is still by pack and canoe over the ancient trails of Indians and voyageurs.

Everyone is listening for something and the search for the places where the singing may be heard goes on everywhere. There is a restlessness within us, an impatience which modern life with it’s comforts and distractions does not satisfy. We sense intuitively there must be something more.”

– Sigurd Olson, from the prologue

I’ve been interested in “nature” for as long as I can remember. I grew up on a few acres of fruit and avocado trees bordering on a huge tract of undeveloped land. Cross a narrow gravel road and there was nothing but sere hills, scrub, pepper trees, narrow defiles filled with poison oak occasionally harboring a trickle of water. Birds, snakes, spiders, skunks, possum were there. Each summer I roamed this space, alone and happy.

I bought Wilderness Days in 1985, read a little of it, boxed it up for a move, and recently rediscovered it, a bookmark about a quarter way in.

This book is a collection of Olson’s writings taken from many books over years of travel in the Quetico-Superior region of Canada. The book is organized by seasons beginning with Spring. Each piece is illustrated with a sketch by Frances Lee Jaques or Robert Hines.

Olson is a keen observer and a talented enough writer to relate what he sees so the picture is clear in the mind’s eye. When he talks about the special quality of light on a late afternoon I get as much of an idea of what he is seeing as possible without seeing myself. His words build the atmosphere of the scene, give the texture of the place, it’s sounds, smells, magic.

This is a book to read a little at a time, to savor, to mull over what I’d read, relating it to what I knew, contemplating concepts and enjoying the word pictures. Very nice indeed, and calming in our current world.


About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books, Non-fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Forgotten Book: Wilderness Days by Sigurd Olson

  1. fence says:

    Sounds like a great book to dip in and out of.

  2. When I want to read about Wilderness, I usually pick up a Farley Mowat book.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Not much nature here, you’d think, right? But where we live is almost the antithesis of Midtown Manhattan, with trees and parks everywhere. We’ve always lived in the city, mainly in an urban environment, but the move here 30 years ago was a great one for us.

  4. I love that cover. Looks so peaceful.

  5. I like reading about nature too, especially if it comes with tranquil prose, as in this case. I liked the cover too.

  6. Frank Denton says:

    Fantastic! I’ve read quite a few of Sigurd Olson’s books. He was a great favorite of Steve Stilwell’s as well. We traveled through northern Minnesota on one of our trips and stopped in Ely, where Olson was a teacher and sometimes dean in a community college. We wandered the empty hallways of the college, finding his photograph among others who had acted as dean. For the life of me now, I can’t remember the name of the institution. We continued on north to the edge of the Quetico-Superior region. Stilwell told me that he had spent great amount of time in this area during his youth. So it wasn’t wasted after all, as we might have thought. One certainly can’t go wrong with any books by Sigurd Olson.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Frank. I’ve read this one at least twice. I think this book has something to do with my liking of William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Conner mystery, Boundary Waters, which takes place in the Quetico-Superior region.

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