THIS WEEK MARKS THE BIRTHDAY OF CONSERVATIONIST AND AUTHOR SIGURD F. OLSON. One of the great environmental figures of the 20th century, he ranks in importance with figures like John Burroughs and Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold and John Muir, Rachel Carson and Marjory Stoneman Douglas. His writing was lyrical and poetic, but suffused with a deep knowledge and scientific underpinning, and he captured and evoked the meanings of the North Woods and Canoe Country better than anyone before or since. He led or participated in battles to save wilderness areas all over the continent, and there would have been no Boundary Waters Canoe Area or Voyageurs National Park without him.
Sig played a vital role of inspiration and support in many private lives as well, including mine. I doubt that I would ever have become a published writer or the person I am today without his mentorship and example. In my next book, “A Wild Path,” I devote an entire chapter to Sig and his influence in my life. My good friend David Backes, Sig’s biographer, and countless others, have felt the same way. I was deeply honored to serve for 10 years as president of the Listening Point Foundation, Sig’s legacy organization.
As we think of Sig on his birthday, it would be a fine time, if you are able, to support organizations that carry on his vision and legacy, fighting to preserve the same Boundary Waters Wilderness he loved so much. It is an extraordinary landscape, unique on all the planet, and today faces threats in the form of toxic copper-sulfide mining that are perhaps more dangerous and existential than any of the countless challenges of the past. Check out listeningpointfoundation.org and savetheboundarywaters.org as organizations worthy of your interest and support.
And remember a man named Sigurd Olson, pictured here on the back covers of two well-loved books—books that have crossed many a lake and portage in an old Duluth pack.