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The Singing Wilderness | Capturing the Essence of the Primitive

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Are there authors or writers in their books or movies which capture a deep, inner sentiment? That are able to express what we are otherwise unable to put into words? That satisfy a lingering hunger?

For me, one of these authors is Sigurd F. Olson. I return to his books again and again, sometimes reading favorite passages annually, or rereading – as if for the first time – one of his books after a gap of many years. “Wilderness Days” is a distillation of his previous books, and begins with this prologue:

“My wilderness world has to do with the calling of loons, northern lights, and the great silences of a land lying north and northwest of Lake Superior. It is concerned with the simple joys, timelessness, and perspective found in a way of life close to the past. I have heard the song of this wilderness from the border of Minnesota and Ontario to the lonely reaches of tundra close to the Arctic, but I hear it best in the beautiful lake region of the Quetico-Superior, where travel is still by pack and canoe over the ancient trails of Indians and voyageurs.”

Singling Wilderness SF Olson

“I have found that I am not alone in my listening. Everyone is listening for something, and the search for places where the singing may be found goes on everywhere. It is part of the hunger all of us have for a time when we were closer to lakes and rivers, to mountains, meadows, and forests than we are today.”

This “listening” is the reason for The Great Out There blog. There is a huge variety of MEANS to achieve this connection to creation. Some people find their “listening point” by way of the paddle and portage. Others backpack into the wilderness – or bikepack. Some discover their ideal destination in the warm months of summer, while others experience purity in the frozen landscape.

For many, the “Singing Wilderness” cannot be experienced without silence and solitude and the expenditure of sweat. For others, the destination is all that is important and the vehicle that transports them might be a V-twin motorcycle down the freeway, a dual-sport motorcycle across the mountains, or a van driving them into the winter desert.

This escape is what drives us. We joke, here in Wisconsin, that “Up North” means something completely different to everyone. To the suburbanite from Chicago, the “wilds” of Lake Geneva, (barely across the Illinois state line) is “Up North”. When I lived in northern Wisconsin, my “Up North” was my off-the-grid cabin on the edge of the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota.

The stark contrast is what creates the experience. The city boy visiting grandparents on the farm. The office worker saving all year for a week on a fly-in fishing or hunting trip. We crave this sensory experience. Olson continues, “Because of our almost forgotten past there is a restlessness within us, an impatience, which modern life with its comforts and distractions does not satisfy.”

Olson recounts the experiences in his youth that awakened his senses, memories of the Great Lakes, deep forests, and tiny, pristine springs. He remembers, “Those first experiences were the forerunners of many others that gave me a desire ultimately leading me into the far wilderness regions of the continent in the hope I might find them again. Since those early days I have known the mountains of the east and west, cypress swamps and savannas of the south, colorful deserts and ranges of the southwest, the limitless expanses of the Canadian Shield, the muskegs and tundras of the far north.”

The ”Singing Wilderness” can be found at any latitude, occasionally even close to home. It can also be found in both short visits and long expeditions. Sometimes the memorable experiences are etched during the journey more than stops along the way. I hope you return to The Great Out There blog as I share a variety of these adventures and destinations.

“There has always been the sense of expectancy, the search and the listening, and I have found that when I have been renewed in even the slightest way the primal sense of belonging I knew as a child, whenever I have glimpsed, if only for an instant, the glory I knew then, my spirits soared.”


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