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.