On Happiness: Calvin Rutstrum

I spend most of my time in the office or with family, but every chance I get, I'm outdoors. Whether it's deep in our own northwoods or making tracks in other remote lands, I love spending time outside. I often relax and decompress at night by going on "armchair adventures" while reading about wilderness trips and dreaming of future destinations.

Calvin Rutstrum  Photo courtesy of  MN Historical Society

Calvin Rutstrum
Photo courtesy of MN Historical Society

Calvin Rutstrum is one of my favorite writers on this subject. A Minnesotan who traveled far into the northern wilderness in the early 1900s and lived and wrote about his adventures and outdoor skills into the 1970s, Rutstrum preached that skills and experiences were more valuable than fancy gear.

On a recent trip to Taylors Falls on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, near Rutstrum's home, I hiked along the great rocky bluffs overlooking the river. It was Fall, and the leaves were at their peak, offering an incredible sight. As I stopped to take in the enormity of it all, I thought about one of Rutstrum's pieces, "On Happiness." In it, he offers a valuable mindset toward wealth and happiness, material goods, and, as always, the value he finds in our wild areas:

"I was happy in those youthful days even when austerity arose with me each morning. As a boy seeking the wilderness I had no money for camping gear, and so I slept with a blanket of dry leaves heaped on me for warmth. While I also went to bed with austerity, I nevertheless slept well, and rose happily with the dawn. When I gained some affluence I did not greatly increase my happiness, and I am inclined to think that if I lost what money and possessions I now have, I would still be happy, because I would always have the inexhaustible treasure of wilderness to fall back on.

The secret, I think, lies in the fact that most of the artifacts of civilization eventually wind up obsolete on the junk heap. The eternal wilderness, however, refreshes and recycles itself."

Whether you travel the backwoods or prefer to surround yourself with humanity and modern conveniences, I encourage you to try Rutstrum's exercise: think back to a time in your life when you had less. Were you really less happy? If you were hungry, sick, or lacked security, those may not have been enjoyable times. How many possessions have you purchased that brought you deep and lasting joy? How many ended up "obsolete on the junk heap?" My guess is that most people have many happy memories, even during their lean years.

On a separate note, if you also love the outdoors, you might enjoy Bull Moose Patrol. It's a blog my wife and I put together to share stories about our outdoor adventures, teach outdoor skills, and to provide information on routes, gear, and such.