My earliest memory is the cry of gulls. I was standing in the shade on the lower level of a double-decker boat, and their calls tantalized me to get a better view from the top deck. I remember emerging from the shadows into a dazzling sun that made the bright orange deck glisten. And there they were, circling above, with brilliant white wings and haunting cries.
From that blue sky day in the Gulf of Mexico at the age of two I have been drawn to wild things, and my many encounters across North America are like cairns, marking the bends and turns of my life’s journey. In August of 2015 I retired from a long career as a university professor who was fortunate enough to focus my writing and much of my teaching on various aspects of the relationships between nature and the human spirit.
During my college days I discovered the writings of Sigurd F. Olson. They–and he–have played a major role in my life ever since. I got to know him during the final five years of his life, and eventually as a professor I got to write the biography of this small town Minnesotan, widely beloved for his nature writing and tremendously respected as a national leader in the movement to preserve wild places. Sigurd once wrote a book called Runes of the North, in which he described his own encounters with nature and the deep meanings he drew from them. “I have known mountains and glaciers, forests and tundras,” he wrote, “and have gathered runes wherever I have gone.” When I decided to build this site, and thought about my goals, it was only natural that Sigurd’s words would point the way.
There are two sections to this site. On the main page you’ll see lots of photos: each one of them is like a rune–a symbol pointing to something deeper, an encounter that provides a sense of meaning and connectedness. Click on them to see where they lead you. The other section is the blog, which will focus on the day-to-day little things that contribute to a strong sense of place, as well as posts that explore philosophical, spiritual, and religious dimensions of being fully human on a little blue planet in a huge universe. The latter will incorporate some of the runes I have gathered as an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church, and as someone who has read widely and with great appreciation the insights of fellow travelers from all kinds of other traditions and cultures. My original intent was to post weekly, but starting in November 2016 I began working on other writing projects, and that may make my posting a little less regular. It won’t be more than once a week, but sometimes I may go several weeks between putting up new content. You also can subscribe and receive email notifications, if you’d like to visit only when you’re sure there is something new.
Sigurd Olson was proud of his Swedish heritage, but he got the idea of using runes as a metaphor from the Finnish epic poem Kalevala. This excerpt below, which Sigurd used in Runes of the North, has always touched me, and I think it expresses some of the spirit I hope to bring to this project:
Only I am left to sing these tales learned from riddles, snatched from the wayside, broken from the heather, torn from the bushes, drawn from the waters, rubbed from the blades of grass, and reft from the roadside….
The frost squeaked verses to me, and the rain chanted runes. The winds whistled other lays carried by the waves of the sea. Birds twittered words, and the boughs of the trees whispered charms.
These I twined into a ball which was carried in my sledge to a barn where the grain dried. The ball of verse was placed into a copper casket, hidden on a beam of the barn loft.
My verses waited in the cold; long they yearned in the darkness….Shall I draw forth my songs from the chilly frost?…Shall I open the chest of words, set tune to phrases, unwind the ball, and straighten out the knots in the yarns?
[Note: If you have come here from the main page of my old Sigurd F. Olson website, the Sigurd F. Olson Environmental Institute has started making the content available again, and you can find it here. I am glad to see it available once again, and look forward to seeing the site grow over time.]