Saturday, August 15, 2015

Reflections from the North Country by Sigurd F. Olson

I first read this book one week in late summer at Camp McNulty a very long time ago. It is my habit when traveling to carry a modest supply of books to feed my brain during those pitch dark northwoods nights when the mosquitoes are buzzing at the screen and the forest can be heard but not seen. Sigurd F. Olson was an environmentalist and writer and conservation activist. This edition of Reflections from the North Country is illustrated by Leslie Kouba. The illustrations are as haunting and as lyrical as Olson’s intelligent prose. The 28 chapters are split into three sections: Primal Heritage, Search for Meaning and The Imponderables. Olson writes in that cerebral yet imagistic style that I always enjoy, although he’s not quite as startling as the great writers Tom Davis or Mike Gaddis. Reflections from the North Country moves at a reasonable pace and punctuated by a practical wisdom that can only be acquired from experience. In the chapter titled “Harmony” Olson writes: “Harmony of knowledge, will, and feeling toward the earth is wisdom; for it has to do with living at peace with other forms of life.” He writes about eating his meal in a tent accompanied by the birdsongs of the forest, or the chattering squirrels; and their voices bring the woodlands closer. His astute observations and homespun philosophy create a tapestry that celebrates America’s natural heritage. Among Olson’s other books I recommend The Singing Wilderness (1956), The Lonely Land (1961) and Of Time and Place (1982). His books are all available from the University of Minnesota Press.

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