What does it mean to get away from it all? Tom Anderson presents an intriguing interpretation in "Remote Minnesota," his story in this issue. He and his wife, Nancy, venture to two places, one in a state scientific and natural area and the other in federally designated wilderness. Wild places certainly offer respite from everyday life in a built environment.
Wilderness travelers and advocates Sigurd Olson and Aldo Leopold had country retreats. Though both men were writers, they did not go to these places to write. Olson called his sanctuary Listening Point, in clear recognition of his purpose there. His 1958 book of the same name recounts his observations on the piney shore of Burntside Lake near Ely.
In 1935 Leopold bought a worn-out farm along a sandy shore of the Wisconsin River. The house had burned down, so he and his wife, Estella, and their children spruced up the old chicken coop/cowshed and made it their weekend refuge. "With shovel and axe," Leopold said, they set about rebuilding the land by planting trees, wildflowers, and prairie grasses. He tells the tale in "shack sketches … seasonally arranged as a Sand County Almanac."
Long before the shack, in a 1920 address to students on leisure time, Leopold extolled the virtues of adventure and "the courage to venture off the beaten path." He praised pursuits from fishing to fossil hunting to growing roses. Listing Theodore Roosevelt's many enthusiasms, he said, "They broadened him for his work, and his work keyed him for the enjoyment and perfection of his hobbies." Famous or not, adventurers "live in a world of vast horizons."
Reading this eighth annual Sense of Place issue, you'll see wide horizons—above the largest patterned peatland in the United States, along the shores of Lake Superior, and looking up at the night sky in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. And you'll meet other adventurers including Jan and John Green, who spent decades connecting their personal passions to conservation of Minnesota's lands and waters.
To be productively engaged in society, a person also needs a way to get away from it all. Whether we look for a place of solitude, time for quiet reflection, or freedom to become absorbed in a keen interest, we are escaping to reconnect with the essence of who we are.
My sense of remote might not be the same as Tom Anderson's or yours. But I'm convinced by my own experience, as I imagine you are, that we all need wildness and wilderness. These true refuges can help us remember who we are apart from our busyness. Just knowing they exist may be all the reassurance we need.
In his 1957 testimony in support of the Wilderness Bill, Sigurd Olson reminded his listeners on the Senate committee, "We are literally children of the earth. When modern man steps into a dimly lighted cocktail lounge for a meeting with his fellows, he is back in his cave; when he checks the thermostat of his apartment, he is still kindling a fire; when he steps out on the street at night and sees Orion glowing in the sky even though it is dimmed by the lights of the city, he is doing what men have done since the dawn of the race."
The Wilderness Bill was introduced in 1956 by Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) and Sen. John Saylor (R-Penn.) and underwent more than 60 rewrites before passing in 1964. The Boundary Waters gained wilderness protection in 1978. Today the nation has 758 wilderness areas in 44 states, covering 110 million acres, or 5 percent of our land and waters. That's cause to celebrate. About 30 proposed wilderness areas are waiting for approval by Congress. Designation would mean greater protection for native plant and animal communities, watersheds, and refuges for all of us.
Now it's up to all of us to make sure wilderness persists.
Kathleen Weflen, editor