On this day forty years ago, Jan. 13, 1982, Sigurd Olson passed away in Ely, Minn. He was a nationally respected icon for his leadership in environmental preservation efforts around the country, including in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. He was also a nature writer who found acclaim with his best-selling debut book “The Singing Wilderness.”
To remember Olson’s life and legacy, host Cathy Wurzer was joined by David Backes, who knew Olson personally and wrote a biography about the conservationist called “A Wilderness Within: The Life of Sigurd F. Olson.”
Olson and Backes first connected at a difficult point in Backes’s life. He was struggling in college and feeling adrift. On the verge of giving up, he discovered Olson’s writing and penned a letter to him.
Although they were complete strangers, Olson wrote back quickly and at length, encouraging Backes to stick with it. Backes was touched and inspired to keep moving forward.
Backes said that Olson’s power to inspire pushed many other environmentalists to continue difficult fights of their own: “He had this sense of what people needed to hear to regroup and keep going.”
We also listened to tape from the MPR archives of Olson reading his own words. The tape originally aired in 1982 following Olson’s passing and was produced by Lee Axdahl.
Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
Gain a Better Understanding of Today
MPR News is not just a listener supported source of information, it's a resource where listeners are supported. We take you beyond the headlines to the world we share in Minnesota. Become a sustainer today to fuel MPR News all year long.