The Singing Wilderness

I must have been all of 12 or 13 when I first picked up my mother's copy of Sigurd F. Olson's and it has stayed with me ever since. Literally. I spotted that same old ratty copy on the bookshelf a couple of days ago.

Even now the chapter headings ring familiar bells, and I am almost back in my early teens, dreaming of canoes and long tramps in the north woods and magical encounters. The Way of a Canoe, Easter on the Prairie, Pools of the Isabella, Farewell to Saganaga.

I don't know that Olson ever read Tolkien, but there is a passage in The Loons of Lac la Croix that mirrors the rising of the flood at the Ford of Bruinen which swept the pursuing Nazgul away: the mouth of the Nina Moose the mists were beginning to move, the horses becoming restive with the rising of the sun. At first they were gray and moved slowly as though afraid to start, but as the east exploded and the level shafts of light hit them, manes flashed silver and they began to run, to crowd one another, and then were in full gallop out of the river toward the expanse of open water.

Today is my birthday, so I reread the chapter Birthday on the Manitou. It's about fishing, about an old man (yes, older than I am today) spending his birthday fishing his favorite pool on the Manitou River. I don't fish - or maybe I do. Maybe I fish for something other than fish. Paragraphs like this, for instance:

"Had to see the old river once more, take a crack at the old pool. Came in here the first time when I was cruising timber for one of the outfits along the north shore. You should have seen the river then, all big pine and the water so dark you couldn't see the bottom anywhere. Trout in here then, big ones, three- and four-pounders lying in all the pools and the rapids fairly alive with their jumping."

Sigurd F. Olson
wrote many other books. The titles I remember best are and . But the only one I've managed to hold onto is .

In 1957 I wrote him a fan letter. I can't remember what I said to him, but he answered, and that answer is pasted in the back of my mother's copy of .

"Dear Barbara:
You who have already learned to listen to the singing in the wild places about you can be assured of much happiness and joy in the years to come. Sincerely, Sigurd F. Olson, Ely, 4/27/57."

And whenever I bent my ear to hear, he was right.