Recently, an article in St. Paul’s Pioneer Press recommended Breath of Wilderness: The Life of Sigurd Olson as an outdoors book worth a look. Dave Orrick writes that Breath is “a welcome addition to the bookshelves of those inspired by Olson.” Read the article here: http://www.twincities.com/outdoors/ci_27297297/outdoors-books-worth-look
I received much advice and support from fellow writers throughout the process of writing, editing, and promoting Breath of Wilderness that when someone asks for my advice or support I feel it’s the least I can do. I also feel a calling to share Sig’s message with whoever I can.
This fall Melanie Lang, a 9th grader at Willow River Public School in Willow River, Minnesota, wrote a letter asking if I’d ever consider visiting her school to speak about writing. She told me that she loves writing and has already written five books, but that she’s thrown them away, because “they weren’t any good.” She also said that she loves to write because she has lots of stories to tell. Truth be told, I had no idea where Willow River even is so I looked it up and found that it’s a long hike from northwestern Minnesota. Yet, I hoped to find a way to visit. I contacted Melanie’s teacher and eventually we set up a time to speak to the 9th grade Careers class.
When I arrived at Melanie’s school, I learned that she had ordered my book, but hadn’t received it yet. How had she heard of me, I wondered. Goodreads, she told me. Huh.This surprised me. I occasionally check out Goodreads for book suggestions, but I had no expectation that it could lead someone to find me or Breath of Wilderness. I spoke to the class about the writing process and my book, specifically, and answered many questions. Melanie and I talked afterwards and I encouraged her to keep writing and reading.
Later that afternoon, I met Grace Wenck. Grace is 11 and attends Bailey Elementary in Woodbury, Minnesota. I know Grace’s dad and he’d asked if I would sit down with Grace and talk about writing. Grace also wants to be a writer. She’s a voracious reader of mostly fiction, but some non-fiction if it’s written well, she disclosed. Grace told me that she has many ideas and starts lots of stories, but doesn’t usually finish them. Grace had prepared a list of questions for me and took notes as I answered. I was impressed with Grace’s enthusiasm and thoroughness and enjoyed hanging out with her.
I loved meeting these girls. I love their drive, their creativity, their dedication, their desire to learn more about writing, their wit and sense of humor and their smarts. I’m tempted to say what I love most about writing the book has been the connections I’ve made with kids. But, that isn’t exactly true. There are many amazing and fulfilling aspects of writing the book and it’s hard to rank them, but this is definitely in the top five.
The best of luck to Grace and Melanie. I know they will do well. I, for one, am anxiously waiting to read their future masterpieces.
I’ve been busy promoting Breath of Wilderness. The Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids held a signing right before Thanksgiving. If you haven’t shopped there, I recommend it. It’s a gem of an independent bookstore and the owner and staff are knowledgable and very kind.
This week my local library hosted two events — an open house and book signing at the library with me and Jeanne Cooney, the author of two mysteries set in northwestern Minnesota, and a program at Far North Spirits celebrating the end of prohibition. When we decided to hold the second event, I wondered how I could tie a children’s book about a nature loving writer and wilderness advocate to food-focused mysteries and the end of prohibition. Yet, I had the best time trying to do just that. I found out that in 1933 Sigurd testified for the first time at a public hearing (regarding the Little Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act for state lands). Sig had much to say at that hearing and the audience responded warmly. He began to realize that he could share his enthusiasm and strong emotions for the outdoors with others and convince them to feel as he did. The day that prohibition was repealed (Dec 5, 1933) — 81 years ago today, Aldo Leopold offered Sig a job conducting surveys in marshes. Sig thought long and hard about that job. Leopold was his hero and the job would allow him to work outdoors, something he’d always wanted. Yet, he realized that it would not provide him the opportunity to connect with others, influencing them and creating fellow wilderness advocates. Thus, he turned down the job. It was a painful decision, but a smart move on his part. While I knew all along that Sigurd’s work had nothing to do with the end of prohibition, I learned that at the same time in history he was realizing his strengths and passions that would later change the world.
Last week I spoke at Augsburg College about Breath of Wilderness. While Augsburg is my alma mater, much has changed since I graduated. My presentation was held at the Lindell Library, which didn’t exist during my days as a student. What a great space for a book reading. I was also impressed with the helpful staff and students and overall professional assistance in organizing the event. Book events require time, effort and create a certain level of stress, but are well worth it. I love the opportunity to share Sig’s story with others. I’ve learned that every event is different even when I make the same presentation. The audience asks all kinds of questions, focusing on Sig’s professional impact, his personal struggles, the writing process and even my philosophy. I never know what to expect, which, surprisingly, I enjoy. The crowd can vary tremendously and is usually made up of strangers who have an interest in the outdoors or in Sigurd Olson, friends of friends, friends who I may not have seen for a long time or family. At Augsburg, in addition to the above, there were deans, professors and other alumni who I hadn’t met. And, there were professors from my undergrad years who played a key role in my career decisions. Though I never expected it, each of these events allows me to re-connect with friends, family and others who have influenced my life — and for this, I am deeply grateful.
Today I visited the 5th and 6th grade class in Lancaster, Minnesota. It was my first school visit to talk about Breath of Wilderness. The teacher asked me last spring if I would be willing to come speak to the class. She read the book over the summer and then read it aloud to the students once school started this fall. Lancaster is a 15 minute drive from my house and on the way I spotted five (!) bald eagles, which I accepted as a good omen. These kids were an attentive group, anxious to ask lots of questions and to learn more about Sig, the wilderness and the writing process. Afterwards, we took a photo and then they swarmed around me with requests for my autograph. We said our good-byes and as I left the room, I overheard a girl comment, “well, she seemed nice.”
I found out recently that Breath of Wilderness was reviewed by The Midwest Book Review and featured in their August 2014 issue of “Library Bookwatch.”
“Enhanced with the inclusion of a US Conservation Time Line; Places to Visit; Take It Outside; To Learn More; Major Sources; and an Index, “Breath of Wilderness: The Life of Sigurd Olson” is specifically written for a young readership ages 9 to 12 and highly recommended for school and community library collections.”
I know stealing is wrong and should not be encouraged, yet I couldn’t help smiling when my book disappeared off the shelves at my local library. Disappeared, as in stolen, and not by being checked out. Apparently, someone wanted Breath of Wilderness enough to swipe it. This shouldn’t be the way to sell books, but hey just this once I won’t complain.
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.
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