Friday, February 13, 2015

The Singing Wilderness

Image credit: Univ. of Minnesota Press
The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd F. Olson (pub. in 1956 by Alfred A. Knopf, repub 1984 by Eliz. D. Olson (wife) and in 1997 by Univ. of Minnesota Press, 245pp.)
My son and daughter-in-law gave me three of Sigurd Olson's books for Christmas.  These are part of the nine volumns written by Olson, which accompany the countless stories and articles that appeared in many publications across the country.  (This title was published in 1956, 12 days after the author's 57th birthday.)  Seven of the nine books have been most recently republished as the Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Book Series in paperback.
The Singing Wilderness was the first of the three titles I picked up to read.  This is a delightful book that is broken into four sections that enable Olson to guide the reader through the Quetico-Superior canoe country during each of the four seasons.  In each season, the chapters are broken into 6-8 page essays or short stories that cover such things as timber wolves, the trapper's cabin, campfires, the way of a canoe, and a continuing index of 33 topics.
This book works on two main levels.  It is not a novel that you would gulp in one or two sittings.  Each short essay is a literary gem that carries you down a river, along a dogsled trail, or through the wilderness and leaves you sitting there to savour the experience.  To continue on would break the spell.   I was so sick when I started reading that 6-8 pages was as much as I could manage, but as health slowly improved, I found I still read only one essay a night, and turned the light out to continue hearing Olson's fire crackling in the fireplace, or squirrels scampering up and down the cedars, or the sound of a stream chuckling among some rocks. 
The writing is so good that Olson doesn't tell you about the experience as much as sit you right in the middle of it, and this is the second level on which the book works.  This book is a must for anyone who writes or dreams of writing.  The word-craft is so clear and artful that images in your mind become as clear as any painting or photograph, to which he also adds the sounds of the wind, snow, birds, and every creature of the wilderness.  Don't miss this one.  

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