November is my least favorite month. Yes, I love Thanksgiving; it's my favorite holiday. But I judge months mostly by their weather, and here, a short walk from the western shore of Lake Michigan, November is a lousy month. The days increasingly become overcast, and temperatures drop into the 40s and 30s, so that when the rains come, we get a brutal damp cold.  

When the cold rains pour out of the dreary skies I long for the temperature to drop into the 20s or lower. I'll take a good dry freezing snap any day. Let the rain turn to snow and the snow turn to dry crystals instead of the wet heavy stuff we so often get during winter's shoulder seasons. Besides, bitter cold usually comes with sunshine.

That said, I will go out on a limb and rank the months from my favorite down to the bottom. Down to November. Your mileage may vary, of course, and I probably rank them a bit different today than I did forty years ago: the weather and I have both changed. 

Anyway, here we go:

1. October is the best month. Hands down. It always has been, in my book. High temps run from, oh, upper 50s to low 70s--my favorite temperature range. The days are often sunny, the leaves turn their most spectacular colors, and the earthy scent of decaying leaves in the woods is wonderful.

2. September. The first half of the month is likely hotter than I'd prefer, but the second half is usually great, and its proximity to October probably boosts its reputation in my list.

3. August. Frankly, August is too hot, and so I'm surprised by putting it in this slot. I guess it shows that factors other than weather can significantly affect my ranking. In this case I suspect it's memories: August has so often been a time for family trips, not only as a child but as a parent, too, seeing the world through the eyes of my children. It's also the month my wife and I were married. And since nearly my entire life has been lived by the calendar of the school year, August has a certain sentimental value: a new year is about to begin.

4. May. Next to Lake Michigan it takes a long time for spring to really arrive. Get away from the lake and it clearly begins in April, but for us spring comes in fits and starts: we all have fits until it starts. And it usually doesn't do much more than tease us until May. The month still has its downside, as we remain jealous of those to our west who are warming up much more than we are. But spring is finally here. We can say it out loud. Besides, it is a month of birthdays: mine, my brother's, two of my children, and two of my grandchildren. My parents also were married in May. A cake month.

5. December. Surprised? I love Christmas. And I love when the weather turns cold enough to put an end to those miserable cold downpours of the bleakest month I shall not name in this paragraph. And I love the first snow! I love it even more now that my wife and I have given up shoveling and pay others to do it. I can just enjoy it once again, like I did as a little child.

6. January. Good thing I live in the North, huh? We get our most bitter cold in January and early February, and one of my favorite things is to take a walk crunching through the snow in the park and down to the beach on a bright blue frigid morning. When you combine that with the calendar, January seems like a month of clear thought and new beginnings.

7. April. Maybe it is the cruelest month for us by the lake, because it constantly teases us with thoughts of spring only to slam us with a snowstorm. But it also is the month when the first wildflowers begin to appear, and so it is a month of hope.

8. June. Spring is arguing with summer, so there are quite a few pleasant days but also stormy ones. In many ways June is the real mystery month here: it doesn't have a consistent personality. It often has pleasant temps, but mosquitoes make you pay for it.

9. July. Hot. Too hot. When I was younger I loved that; fifteen years ago I probably would have ranked July ahead of December. But I can't take heat like that very well anymore. It can literally make me ill. So I am glad when the shade is cool enough to sit out and read, or when my wife and I can take an evening walk, but too often the heat is limiting these days.

10. February. Winter has lost its appeal after two months, and spring seems a world away. But I like groundhog day!

11. March. This month has weather that is similar to November: dreary, damp and cold. But it's reputation is better because spring is on its way. Eventually. Somebody saw it somewhere.

12. November. I need not ever mention it again. But I probably will.

 This morning my publisher gave me sad news. As with so many independent publishers, the economics have proven impossible despite a valiant effort over the past decade. It's just not sustainable for him, so he's giving up on this dream and will have to start anew with something else.

For me it's more of a dream deferred. I'm a published author with six books behind me, but Listening Point will be my first novel, if I can find a publisher. Writing fiction has been so much fun, and I was really looking forward to seeing it in print next June. Now, instead, I will have to start searching all over again. And this time it is likely to be much harder.

Some independent publishers don't require authors to have agents, but the vast majority of books published in the U.S. are under imprints of just five major publishers. Soon to be four, if the courts allow one of the five to take over one of the others. And they require agents.

I have to admit, I have had such an easy time as an author compared to most. All my manuscripts have been accepted, and all on my first or second try. Sigurd Olson would be shocked and envious! But I've always had a good idea of which publisher would be perfect for my topic and manuscript. I had that initially with my first novel, too, but now I just don't know.

The reality is rough: just one in a thousand fiction manuscripts finds a publisher. Since I already had one for this manuscript, I suspect my odds are better, but getting past the initial gatekeeper to even have a chance will be the hard part. Agents and editors are absolutely swamped by proposals and manuscripts. It's even worse than usual now because during the pandemic a lot of editors have quit their high-stress jobs. Other editors have had to add to their own workloads the contracted book manuscripts left by the departing editors, so they have all the reason in the world to reject quickly any new project that comes to their attention. If your proposal survives all of that and gets a contract, it typically takes two or three years for it to make its way to publication. So, instead of seeing my novel in 2023, the best-case scenario is probably 2025.

But that's getting ahead of myself. I need to begin researching the publishing market and literary agents in particular. They each advertise whether they are accepting queries, and if so what genres they represent. Listening Point is not genre-specific, and could easily be misclassified in a way that works against me, so figuring out how to market the book in the right way to the right agent is key. It often takes authors more than a hundred attempts before they land an agent, if they ever do land one. So I'm anticipating a long process that will require a lot of trial and error and not a little bit of luck. Fingers crossed. 

Smoky orange beech leaves, Grant Park, October 31, 2022

This has been our best fall in years. October has been glorious. The colors peaked about a week ago, before I started this blog, but I shared a few photos and reels on my Instagram and Facebook accounts. The bright red maple leaves have mostly fallen since then. The sugar maples, birches and aspen still flash their yellows when struck by the filtered rays of the autumn sun, but their leaves have been falling, and those that remain are darkening; the once-spectacular sight now appears a little threadbare.

I love the subtle colors of late fall. But of all of them, I especially love what happens to the beech trees. Their yellows of early fall have turned to a beautiful smoky orange. I spent an hour or so with them this afternoon, taking in the earthy scent of decaying leaves, the sound of them crunching under my feet, and the touching beauty of beeches as they prepare for winter.

What is "the singing wilderness"? It refers to several different things, all at once.

It is the title of a 1956 book of nature essays by Sigurd F. Olson that became a bestseller and launched his career as an author.

It will be the title of the third book in a series of novels I'm writing, the first of which, Listening Point, will be published in June 2023 by Riverfeet Press.

It also can stand as the overarching name for that series. And that's because "the singing wilderness" points to a way of seeing and a way of being that is sorely needed in these troubled times.

Sigurd Olson used to tell me that no two people see things the same way. To write, then, is to take something that might be quite familiar, and express it through the writer's unique blend of experience, creativity and insight. That's what I hope to do here, as well as in my books. I'm taking his "singing wilderness" way of life and expressing it for today, based on my life experiences, creativity and insight.

I'm Sigurd's biographer. I'm his estate's literary representative. I want to honor his memory as much as I want to express my own twist on the "singing wilderness" way. But more than that, I want to help you recover the truth of our oneness with nature. To help you discover the power of wonder. To encourage you to spend time in silence and solitude, somewhere outdoors. I trust in what the experience will do for you. You will grow more aware. Feel more alive. You will find wholeness. You will know peace.

The singing wilderness way will help you begin to satisfy a hunger that no amount of material striving can suppress.  And if enough people discover this way and live it, our society may begin to break the chains of a way of life that in the long run threatens all life.

But first we need to get a sense of why Sigurd chose "Singing Wilderness" as the title of his first book, and as a simple way to express his entire worldview.


To Sigurd, the “wilderness” part of the title highlighted the essential wildness at the heart of all reality. It included large wild expanses of land, but also much more. He wrote about locations in and around his small town of Ely, Minnesota, even his own backyard. As he said, "Some can find their wildernesses in tiny hidden corners where, through accident rather than design, man has saved just a breath of the primeval America." He continued:

I know of a glen in the heart of a great city park system, a tiny roaring canyon where many seeking solitude and beauty can find release. It is dark in there, and damp, and in the heat of the summer it is cool. Ferns and lichens and liverworts cling to the rocks, and there grow flowers that thrive only in the shadows where the air is charged with mist. The water swirls through this canyon as it has for thousands of years, and the sounds are the sounds of a land far removed from civilization.

A highway runs within a hundred yards and cars pass almost overhead, but the rocks and trees screen it from view and the only evidence of traffic is a vague hum that blends with the whisper of the wind and the music of rushing water. There, if a man wishes, he can regain in a swift moment the feeling of the wild, and steal, for a brief instant, respite from the noise and confusion of a big city. There, if he has perspective, he may recharge his soul.



As for “singing,” to Sigurd it conveyed a sense of relationship that doesn't come easily to many. In our culture, descriptions of nature are dominated by the sense of sight and the picturesque. Sigurd's title expresses what his friend Sam Campbell described as “that elusive melody to whose rhythm all nature moves.” For Sigurd it also implied mystery and joy, the joy of connectedness.  And as he fleshed out his manuscript early in 1954, he wrote in his journal:

If each thing I write will somehow have this illumination, this glow, this transcendent beauty, the feeling of having touched the absolute, it will be enough. I can do this by bringing in somehow my feelings for the primeval, the origins of things…the sense of wonder, awe, oneness with all life and the universe itself, [and] the childlike quality, soon lost, of being part of that greater life.

THAT is the real spirit in which I use the “singing wilderness” concept as the title for this blog as well as the title of the third novel in the trilogy I am writing. It points to an awareness, a perspective, and a way of life. A way of seeing and being that is even more important now than it was when Alfred Knopf published Sigurd's book and it became a bestseller.

 I want to try blogging again and see if I can avoid the problems I have had in the past.

Actually, my first blog, which I called New Wood, lasted around five years. But it began to feel forced the final two of those. I felt like I had to post every day and accompany each post with a good cover photo. Finding the right photo was frequently harder than writing the actual post. 

In 2015 I tried again with a blog I called Gathering Runes. I was doing more with photography then, and chose a Wordpress theme that emphasized pictures. I had fun with the photography aspect, but found myself ending up in the same rut, only a little more artistic. So I stopped for a bit and then restarted with a news-themed Wordpress site I called The Earthkeeper. I wound up writing about too many things I wasn't passionate about, combined with the same issue of always seeking appropriate copyright-free cover photos.

Several years ago I tried a fourth time, using the same name I'm using now, only with a magazine-style Wordpress theme rather than a blog. I had fallen into the same trap yet again. It was closer to my heart in content, but still I had put too much pressure on myself to produce frequently, with that same old combination of article and interesting cover photo.

To make matters worse, I was getting back into book writing after years of being focused on other things. I had begun working on A Private Wilderness: The Journals of Sigurd F. Olson for the University of Minnesota Press, and brainstorming ideas for my first novel, Listening Point. I couldn't justify putting so much time into a blog that was less important than the books. So I shut it down.

So why am I starting one up again, especially since I'm writing novels? I think the best answer is that sometimes I just feel like writing something different. I've never really written about writing, for example, and I'd like to try that. And I want a good way to jot down flashes of inspiration that come to me as I walk along the bluffs looking over Lake Michigan, or as I read a book, or in some other way. And I thought maybe a blog would give me that space as well as encouragement to get things down before I forget them.

So I'm back using the same Blogger space (Blogger is owned by Google) that I used when I created the New Wood Blog all those years ago. I hope to avoid the pitfalls of my first four attempts, all of which arose from my perfectionist tendencies and the underlying fear of failure or--worse--disapproval. I aim to studiously avoid perfectionism this time around. I will be perfect at it! ... Ummm ... I will allow myself to write posts without photos (unless I immediately have one or so in mind and at hand). I frequently will write simply as the words come to me, making for a more personal blog rather than a polished one. And I will allow myself to write posts of even just a sentence or two, if that's what comes to me in the moment.

All this, I hope, will make this fifth attempt at blogging a sustainable one. It can be a creative outlet for me. And if anyone finds anything valuable in any of my posts, then perhaps--as with my books--this blog can be a source of hope in these challenging times.