Later today we’ll be heading towards Ely, one of my favorite places. I don’t know exactly what it is about charming town that I love so much, but I get excited just anticipating the visit. In Ely I can sense the wilderness close and, maybe, it’s the connection I feel to Sig, traveling the same path. Knowing the history, I imagine the town and the people from earlier times. The air feels clearer and what could be described as serenity seeps in and untangles some of the knots that usually accompany me.
Ely is celebrating its Harvest Moon Festival, which means there will be lots of activities and visitors. On Friday I will sign books at the Listening Point Foundation’s Annual Northwoods Dinner at the Grand Ely Lodge. This year Chuck Wick will be speaking about Sig’s legacy. It’s a fun chance to connect with others who love Sig and his inspiring message and life’s work. Saturday I will be signing books at Piragis. If you’ve never been to Piragis, I highly recommend it. That store has just about anything you need or want — books, clothes, outdoor gear, shoes, etc. I like supporting Ely businesses and usually return home with pie, coffee, granola and a gift or two. The pie at the Chocolate Moose is out of this world. Really, it’s worth the trip just for that pie.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act. Wouldn’t it be fitting to celebrate wilderness as a national holiday today to honor its importance in our society? This fateful piece of legislation created a National Wilderness Preservation System, defining wilderness and protecting over 9 million acres of land from development, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The Wilderness Act of 1964, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, has been called one of the nation’s greatest conservation achievements. Sigurd Olson worked diligently to help shepherd the legislation through the process. He urged Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey to support the effort, which faced years of intense battles and controversy. In the end, the landmark legislation passed the Senate 73-12 and the House 373-1. Times were clearly different then with compromise and the ability to work together actually achievable. Still, those vote totals demonstrate just how strong the support for wilderness became. Can you imagine anything passing the U.S. House today so overwhelmingly? Even if Wilderness Day is not a sanctioned federal holiday, I’m adding it to my calendar. As Sigurd said, “In saving any wilderness area, you are saving more than rocks and trees and mountains and lakes and rivers. What you are really saving is the human spirit. What you are really saving is the human soul.” September 3 seems like a perfect day to acknowledge the incredible impact of wilderness on our lives, whether it be spiritual, emotional, or physical.