Cover Image: A Private Wilderness

A Private Wilderness

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Nature writer, environmentalist, essayist, educator, conservationist, and former president of the National Parks Association, Sigurd F. Olson had a long career working in wilderness areas. For some, such as myself, he is best remembered for his gentle, thoughtful reflections of nature found in books like Listening Point, The Singing Wilderness, or Runes of the North (among others).

Editor David Backes has previously written a biography of Olson and put together a collection of Olson's notable quotes, but with this book we get our best, most intimate look at Sigurd F. Olson, the man, the dreamer.

As I only know of Olson from his published books of nature reflection, what struck me here was how much he agonized over his desire to be a writer - to be able to quit his other work (primarily, early on, as a college teacher) and just be outdoors and writing. And when he wasn't waxing on about his desire to just focus on writing, he was wondering and worrying about what to write. In his earliest days he was writing short stories but having limited luck selling them. With each rejection would come angst-filled journal entries questioning whether or not he could do this, generally followed by yes, what should he write.

This is often quite repetitive, but editor David Backes does a great job of selecting entries that differ just enough to show Olson's frame of mind during these different periods and how Olson slowly grows into the author most of us know him as.

For those who might be drawn to this, hoping for some wilderness connections - there is some here. Olson spent his time and his thoughts in the outdoors, and that comes through in his personal reflections.

Young or hopeful writers will understand Olson's frustrations about making time to write and the hard questioning of one's work with each rejection. That Olson ultimately became quite successful with his goal gives every amateur writer hope.

The book includes a few photos from the appropriate time periods and often showing someone that Olson mentions in one of his journal entries.

We have to remember that journal entries are meant to be private reflections and never intended for a general readership and even though nicely edited, there are times when we sometimes feel we're intruders.

I highly recommend this book.

Looking for a good book? A Private Wilderness: The Journals of Sigurd F. Olson is just what the title suggests - a look at the man, Sigurd Olson, through his private journal writings. It is an excellent book on many levels (such as nature writing, autobiography, psychology, and the business of writing).

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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A Private Wilderness shares an inside look at beloved naturalist Sigurd Olson’s life. Olson aspired to be an environmentalist, conservationist, and nature writer. The book uses journal entries from Olson himself to share his thoughts, struggles, and emotions. Passion bleeds from the entries as Olson describes his love for nature.
“Do not forget that communion with nature is communion with one’s soul” (Olson).
Despite pining for an author's life, Sigurd Olson was forced to take environmental jobs that did not satiate his desire to write. Nevertheless, the journal entries showcase his writing talent and passion for growing as a writer. Olson mentions various nature writers for inspiration and expresses his admiration. The authors fuel Olson to become the best writer he can be.
Despite a personal insight into the mind of Sigurd Olson, the book is at times dull. Most of the entries are typical day-to-day thoughts that I felt the urge to skip. I would have like to see more about the man himself. Perhaps, the publisher could have added biographical information between entries to give the reader a better sense of who Olson was. Still, if you are a fan of nature authors or environmentalism A Private Wilderness is an interesting read.

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A story long overdue to be shared, this book provides an edited look at the diary of Sigurd F. Olson. Olson was a major figure in conservation of wilderness in the United States and Canada. He was happiest when out in nature observing and interpreting the biota he saw. He also enjoyed writing about it when he able to write exactly what he wanted without being told what story to tell. Olson played an important role in creating national. lands and seashores and protecting existing national parks from logging or development.

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