Olson’s biographer, David Backes, recommends the following three books as representative:
“The Singing Wilderness” (1956)
The book contains his most consistently poetic writing and best captures what I described in the biography as his land aesthetic. It’s probably the most consistent because it was his first, and some of the essays had decades of thought and earlier attempts behind them. It was the book that made him famous.
“Listening Point” (1958)
“Listening Point” best illustrates his land ethic, as he describes the process of finding his beloved property on Burntside Lake, choosing what kind of structures he was willing to put on it, and the care he took as he put the structures in, along with a simple dirt road. He also relates it to wilderness, especially in the classic essay “The Whistle,” in which he discusses the relationship between wilderness and civilization. His is the land ethic of someone who believed we can hold true to ideals without being ideologues.
“Reflections from the North Country” (1976)
“Reflections from the North Country” best displays Sigurd’s beliefs about nature and the human spirit. It is his most philosophical book, and it ranks second in sales. Much of the book is adapted from speeches he gave in the 1960s and 1970s.
Sigurd Olson, in his words:
“When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known.”
-“The Singing Wilderness”
“Simplicity in all things is the secret of the wilderness and one of its most valuable lessons.”
-“Reflections from the North Country”
“I named this place Listening Point because only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard. Everyone has a listening point somewhere. It does not have to be in the north or close to the wilderness, but someplace of quiet where the universe can be contemplated with awe.”
“The conservation of waters, forests, soils, and wildlife are all involved with the conservation of the human spirit. The goal we all strive toward is happiness, contentment, the dignity of the individual, and the good life. This goal will elude us forever if we forget the importance of the intangibles.”
-Unpublished speech, 1954