Hallock, Minn., writer Kristin Eggerling releases her first book
Kristin Eggerling is author of the new biography, “Breath of Wilderness: The Life of Sigurd Olson,” a book for young readers about the noted teacher, writer and conservationist who helped draft the Wilderness Act of 1964 and whose efforts to preserve wild places helped establish the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeast Minnesota.
Eggerling, of Hallock, Minn., wrote the book as part of Colorado-based Fulcrum Publishing’s “Conservation Adventurers” series. The book, her first — targeted at readers ages 9 to 12 — hit the shelves April 9.
A freelance writer and conservation advocate, Eggerling has been involved with natural resource issues for several years, including serving on the board of Conservation Minnesota and working as administrator of the Environment and Agriculture Budget Committee in the Minnesota Senate.
She talked with Herald outdoors writer Brad Dokken about her new book and conservation efforts. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation:
Q. What inspired you to write a book about Sigurd Olson?
A. I took a class in 2009 through the Split Rock program at the University of Minnesota, Writing Biographies for Children, and I was just intrigued by the thought of it. I haven’t written for children before, but the way I write and think, I thought this could be a perfect fit and so, before the class started, we were supposed to come up with a list of people who we thought might be good projects to work on, and Sig was on my list. I started doing a little research and found there were no children’s biographies written on him and I just thought he had a very inspiring story for children.
He inspired so many people and so I thought, “What a great chance to share that with children and hopefully get more generations interested in him and his message.”
Q. For people who don’t know a lot about Sigurd Olson, what would you like to share about him?
A. What I see to be the story of his life is a man finding his passion and changing the world, discovering what he loved and going out and conquering with that. He grew up in a religious household, and his dad was very authoritative and said he could be a farmer, a teacher or a minister and so he looked at those things and really thought about all of them and ended up being a teacher. But he really loved the outdoors from a time he was a small child and was always happiest being outdoors. He was the dean of the college in Ely (Minn.) and it was a great job, but he just didn’t like the administrative aspect of it at all and couldn’t wait to get outside.
Q. How do you go about researching a man like Sig?
A. More than 80 boxes of his papers are at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. I did some research of newspaper articles and whatnot before I went there, but then I went and started going through all of those boxes. I didn’t get through all of them.
I met with people who knew him and I interviewed them. I went to Ely. I went to his house, his writing shack and to Listening Point, his cabin, and there are some photos that are at the (Northern) Great Lakes Visitor Center outside of Ashland, Wis., and his son lives between Ashland and Hayward Wis., so I went to his house. His son lives in Sigurd’s wife’s family home, and that’s where Sig and his wife, Elizabeth, got married so I got to see the trees they got married under and the house they lived in for awhile and really where Sig was introduced to the outdoors on that property.
Q. If he were alive today, what kind of conservation battles do you think he’d be fighting?
A. Well, for sure the sulfide mining issue (in northeast Minnesota). That would be the No. 1. That’s very critical. I think climate change is definitely a big issue that will be affecting the Boundary Waters. There are always development forces that seem to be a challenge.
Q. Why do you think it’s important for people to remember the work he did? Is it just because of these ongoing battles and the need to keep up the good fight?
A. Oh definitely. We can learn so much from history and what was effective and how it can inform us today. One of the quotes, when he spoke at the hearings they had in Ely when he was hung in effigy, he reminded people if any of these battles to preserve the BWCA had been lost, there would be no wilderness to argue about today. And that’s so true. It continues on.
Q. How do you get kids to read the book?
A. (Laughs) Well that will be the thing won’t it?
You try to think of ways that kids would relate to stories that Sig told or experienced, and so I guess that’s hopefully one way of getting them interested.
I wanted this to be a book that kids could pick up, and there are photos and copies of documents that help tell the story, too.
In the back, there’s “Take it Outside,” where I give suggestions on things you could do to connect with being in the outdoors and then other places to visit — just some of those other things that would help in a classroom setting, too, I think.
Q. Any parting thoughts?
A. I’m excited about the book. I hope that Sig’s story and his life resonate with kids because I think it’s just such a good message for them, about standing up for what you believe in and getting outside because kids today don’t spend enough time outside. Anything we can do to get kids outside is a positive for them and for society in general.
Title: “Breath of Wilderness: The Life of Sigurd Olson.”
Author: Kristin Eggerling.
Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing, fulcrumbooks.com; 93 pages.
Price: $12.95, available through a variety of retail and online outlets.
More info: Eggerling is available for book signings or speaking engagements; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.