It has been a long winter, and my thoughts are turning to spring. But I have been doing more reading this winter including rereading portions of Sigurd Olson’s Runes of the North, first published in 1963.
For those of you unfamiliar with Sigurd Olson, he was a highly respected environmentalist, interpretive naturalist, and author. He is perhaps best known for his successful efforts to establish the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.
His books are among my favorite reads, and Runes of the North is near the top of that list. Olson is an excellent storyteller, and Runes of the North is about the “legends, reflections, and adventures” of the wilderness north from the Quetico-Superior area to Alaska and the Yukon.
In one of the chapters “The Dream Net” Olson recounts camping with a geologist on an island in northern Minnesota. The geologist became quite excited at discovering a particular type of rock. Olson asked the 84-year-old geologist how he could still, with his age and extensive experience, still get so much pleasure and excitement from finding the rock. The geologist’s response was quite insightful: “The secret is never to lose the power of wonder at the mystery of the universe. If you keep that, you stay young forever. If you lose it, you die.”
For some reason, that response has resonated with me. I suspect that for those of us who enjoy nature, we have probably managed to maintain a sense of wonder of the natural world, and it is keeping us alive in nature. That sense of wonder may have begun with some observation of nature from our youth. Maybe it was the first sighting of northern lights, watching a robin feeding its young, identifying a wildflower, or seeing a butterfly dancing in the breeze. It could be a combination of many observations. Whatever it was, it was a great gift.
In this day and age, when so many of the mysteries of life have been scientifically explained, keeping that sense of wonder alive can be difficult. But connecting, staying connected, or re-connecting with nature is important to “staying young forever” as the geologist stated. So do yourself a favor and make a concerted effort to cultivate your sense of wonder in nature this year.