By: Steffi O'Brien
A decade and a half ago Bob and Vonnie Olson and some of their bighearted friends dreamed and worked the Listening Point Foundation into existence. That founding group included Chuck Wick (still Vice President of the Foundation today) Dave Peterson, Milt Stenlund, Sigurd T. Olson, Dave Zentner, David Backes, and Randy Pachal.
It was their vision that as long as the sun and rain fell on an iconic little finger of granite and greenstone in the Quetico-Superior, it would be protected—as a place others might visit to find a little of what Sigurd F. Olson had found there, and as a source of inspiration for dreams of their own. The second part of the vision was to nurture and promote Sigurd’s lifelong passion of wilderness education, the timeless value of wild things and wild places in a modern world.
Today, there are many grateful beneficiaries of these efforts. The rocky point, still sheltered by white and red pines, still reaches unencumbered into the waters of a clear, north woods lake. Waves still wash over ten thousand year-old glacial striations at its tip. The simple footpaths that Sig and Elizabeth so often walked remain much as they were, leading nowhere in particular but to a better understanding of one’s self and one’s place on this earth. The enormous guardian boulder, covered with lichens, mosses, and ferns, still guards the point and the rough little Finnish cabin that Sigurd built there.
The cabin itself looks completely unchanged, but thanks to ongoing efforts at maintenance and refurbishing is actually in better shape than ever before. Cedar shake shingles have been replaced, with many of the old ones finding their way to walls and dens of Listening Point admirers around the country. Stonework and masonry has been re-done, every stone catalogued and lovingly replaced exactly from whence it came. Logs have been treated to prevent damage from weathering and insects. The old wood stove is occasionally fired up and LPF board meetings held around the old pine table, where new dreams are dreamed and new plans laid. And the objective of preserving the Point and the cabin has been furthered greatly by establishment of a conservation easement with the Minnesota Land Trust and listing of the property in the National Registry of Historic Places.
Hundreds of visitors indeed still come to the Point every year, guided by Chuck and Executive Director Alanna Dore, or other volunteers. History is imparted, along with a deep sense of place and timeless values.
Visitors often remark on the feeling of something like a pilgrimage, a sense that it is somehow vital that such a place exists, and that other places like it be preserved and appreciated. Perhaps, as they listen to the song of a white-throated sparrow or the breeze through those pines, or the call of a loon from out on the lake, they think of Sigurd’s words, “Everyone has a Listening Point somewhere.”
Meanwhile, the goal of wilderness education has been furthered in countless ways. Membership has increased tenfold, with newsletters like this one keeping folks abreast of LPF activities. Every spring a popular Sigurd F. Olson birthday luncheon is held in St. Paul, with speakers like Jim Brandenburg, Will Steger, and Don Shelby. In the last three years a similar evening dinner has been held in Ely so that folks from the North Woods can attend without traveling so far. The Foundation has sponsored “Paddling With Sig” canoe trips and “Writers In The Wilderness” writing workshops. The BBC hosted a worldwide broadcast on wilderness from the Point, and this spring and summer an exceptional SFO exhibit is in place at the International Wolf Center—”The Legacy of Sigurd F. Olson: Wilderness, Writing, and Wolves.” Educational outreach materials like the booklets, “The Story of Listening Point” and “Sig Olson’s Wilderness Moments” have been produced and distributed, along with a “Singing Wilderness” teaching packet.
And of course in the digital age we now have a lovely website and even a Facebook page.
All of these and many other balls are kept in the air largely through the passionate efforts of Executive Director Alanna Dore, who never knew Sig, but who feels a spiritual kinship so deep that it shines through in all she does, and that permeates the work of the Foundation. Sig would have liked A.D.
Also to be credited in all this work is a fine Board of Directors who take time out from their busy lives to see that Bob and Vonnie’s founding vision is fulfilled.
So, the pines on Listening Point still sing in the wind, the cabin snuggled safely beneath as always. The rocks and plants and trails are as they were, and people come to listen and see and feel, sensing and absorbing things that a wilderness philosopher thought important. And ripples that wash upon the ancient rock shore are reflected by ripples that wash outward into the world, ripples of the thoughts and words and actions of Sigurd F. Olson, who wrote: “Listening Point is dedicated to recapturing (the)
almost forgotten sense of wonder and learning from rocks and trees and all the life that is found there, truths that can encompass all…. I must leave it as beautiful as I found it. Nothing must ever happen there that might detract in the slightest from what it now had.”
We’re working on it, Sig. We’re working on it.
—Douglas Wood (President of LPF)