ELY, Minn. — A lot of time passed since I had been to Listening Point, Sigurd Olson's cabin on Burntside Lake outside of Ely, and without help I doubt I would have made the correct turn from what is now a ribbon of smooth blacktop. But once we had parked our vehicles and started up the footpath toward Sig's sauna, and beyond it, his cabin, the place had a familiar feel.
When Sig bought the Burntside lakeshore and 26 acres of land in 1956, he realized a decades-old dream. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had arrived in Ely in February 1923, and he paddled many canoe routes, and traversed many paths — literally and figuratively — between then and the time he purchased the land and, the following year, erected his cabin.
For most of his life Sig couldn't afford a hideaway. By the time I moved to Ely in 1977, he and Elizabeth were comfortable. Their house was roomy and bore Elizabeth's refined, yet relaxed, taste and style. A stone's throw away was Sig's writing shack, with a canoe alongside, and the patio between the shack and the home was often a gathering space for important people and, as regularly, admirers.
The scene was light-years from the converted coal shed Sig and Elizabeth rented when they first came to Ely, a structure that was so cold, according to Sig's biographer, David Backes, they wore knit hats to bed at night.
With me at Listening Point on a recent day were Steffi O'Brien, executive director of the Listening Point Foundation, which now owns and caretakes the cabin and land, and the foundation's president, Patsy Mogush.