Welcome to the first week of summer. I’m among those who believe there is absolutely no reason to live in Minnesota unless you enjoy and take advantage of our impressive parcels of wilderness. Last week, playing the role of Bourgeois [as in the wise old respected leader, not as in a member of a fussy upper class] to a small group of middle-aged voyageurs, I hosted a meeting to plan our summer trip into the Quetico-Superior wilderness. This is simply what Minnesotans do unless they’ve inherited the family cabin up north. To enhance the experience of wilderness, and to remind us of it when we are not there, we are lucky to have books. The three best…
Florence Page Jaques. Canoe Country. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1938.
Sigurd F. Olson. Listening Point. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958.
Calvin Rutstrum. Way of the Wilderness: A Complete Camping Manual… Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company, 1952.
Sigurd F. Olson is the Dean of outdoor writing. He began selling his stories to hunting and fishing magazines in the 1920s. By the mid-1950s he was writing books that would spark a cult-like following of people who believe that the wilderness experience is a spiritual one, of which I’m a card-carrying member. As is the case with many of the authors on this list, it is hard to choose just one of Olson’s books. I would love to hear your opinion. I chose his second book, Listening Point, because it is the name of Olson’s getaway, which became a Mecca for environmentalists. Curiously, this is the signed first edition of the “Minnesota Statehood Centennial Edition” as it was “prepared in tribute to the State.” Here is a sample from Sig’s first book, The Singing Wilderness:
There have been countless campfires, each one different, but some so blended into their backgrounds that it is hard for them to emerge. But I have found that when I catch even a glimmer of their almost forgotten light in the eyes of some friend who has shared them with me, they begin to flame once more. Those old fires have strange and wonderful powers. Even their memories make life the adventure it was meant to be.
Olson’s books were illustrated by Frances Lee Jaques, which greatly added to their charm. Jaques was at his best, however, when illustrating the writings of his wife Florence Page Jaques. The two collaborated on several books including Canoe Country, and the U of M Press has kept this title along with Snowshoe Country and Geese Fly High in print. Going into the woods is one thing; knowing how to get in and out safely is quite another. Calvin Rutstrum, from Marine on St. Croix, was the go-to guy for this information and once again [thanks Todd] the U of M Press is keeping his books in print for us. I choose this edition of Way… because it is so uniquely bound in a Duluth Pack-like cover. It is impressive how much harder camping was a half a century ago. I’m proposing a new movement – retro camping. Let’s go into the wilderness without equipment or technology invented after WWII. – wood not kevlar. Wool not polypropylene. Canvas not Gortex. Rutstrum can be our guide.
Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian