Scottish Islands, desert plains, wild canyon rivers, deep blue seas and wild Yellowstone valleys – beautiful nature writing has the power to take you to these places of wild and make you ponder your relationship with nature and wildlife. Here are ten of my favourite books that take you into the wild by the sheer power of words.
1. Ellen Meloy: Eating Stone
“Naturalist Ellen Meloy tracks a band of majestic bighorn sheep of Uta’s canyon lands through backcountry hikes, downriver floats and travels across the Southwest. Alone in the wilderness, Meloy chronicles her communion with the bighorns and laments the growing severance of man from nature, a severance that she feels has left us spiritually hungry. Wry, quirky, and perceptive.”
Along with her other book “The Anthropology of Turquise” one of my favourite reads on my vanlife-roadtrip through the Western USA
2. Amy Liptrot: The Outrun
“At the age of thirty, Amy Liptrot finds herself washed up back home on Orkney. Standing unstable on the island, she tries to come to terms with the the addiction that has swallowed the last decade of her life. As she spends her mornings swimming in the bracingly cold sea, her days tracking Orkney’s wildlife, and her nights searching the sky for the Merry Dancers, Amy discovers how the wild can restore life and renew hope.”
A book that gripped me so much, I ended up looking up Liptrots temporary winter residence on Papa Westray and moved in there for a few months myself.
3. Edward Abbey: Desert Solitaire
If you ever wondered what living for a season in the desert feels like, read Edward Abbeys account of his one year work as a ranger in Arches Nationalpark. From befriending snakes to getting lost in river canyons to chasing runaway horses to dealing with tourists, Desert Solitaire has so many stories to tell, so many memories to share and so many dreams to be evoked. Beautifully written, very insightful, very politically critical and scarily enough highly relevant today still. A few years back since I read it, but still love to pick it up again every now and then.
4. Rebecca Solnit: A Field Guide to Getting Lost
“In this investigation into loss, losing and being lost, Resbecca Solnit explores the challenges of living with uncertainty. A Field Guide to Getting Lost takes in subjects as eclectic as memory and mapmaking, Hitchcock movies and Renaissance painting. Beautifully written, this book combines memoir, history and philosophy, shedding glittering new light on the way we live now.”
Literally anything I ever read by Rebecca Solnit is worth your time, but this little booklet is a good place to start, before moving on to more politically charged, but equally essayistic and eloquent non-fiction writing such as “Savage Dreams” or “A Paradise built in Hell”.
5. Nan Shepherd: The living mountain
“Nan Shepherd describes her journeys into the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. There she encounters a world that can be breathtakingly beautiful at times and shockingly harsh at others. Her intense, poetic prose explores and records the rocks, rivers, creatures and hidden aspects of this remarkable landscape. Her quest led her to write this classic meditation on the magnificence of mountains, and on our imaginative relationship with the wild world around us.”
Whenever I get homesick for the Scottish highlands, this little booklet is my go to.
6. Aldo Leopold: The Sand County Almanac
“These astonishing portraits of the natural world explore the breathtaking diversity of the unspoiled American landscape—the mountains and the prairies, the deserts and the coastlines. Conjuring up one extraordinary vision after another, Aldo Leopold takes readers with him on the road and through the seasons on a fantastic tour of our priceless natural resources, explaining the destructive effects humankind has had on the land and issuing a bold challenge to protect the world we love.”
Another classic that combines detailed and playful nature writing with an urgent call to protect the places we love.
7. Peter Matthiessen: The Snow Leopard
A field study, a diary and a contemplation on the meaning of life all in one. Matthiessen accompanies a friend to the remote Dolpo area of Nepal in hope to find the elusive Snow Leopard, and his account of this trip is as much travel literature as philosophical exploration. A must read, for anybody trekking in the Himalayas.
8. Jack Kerouac: The Dharma Bums
“Kerouac charts the spiritual quest of a group of friends in search of Dharma, or Truth. Ray Smith and his friend Japhy, along with Morley the yodeller, head off into the High Sierras to seek the lesson of solitude and experience the Zen way of life. But in wildly Bohemian San Francisco, with its poetry jam sessions, marathon drinking bouts and experiments in ‘yabyum’, they find the ascetic route distinctly hard to follow.”
At the same time hilarious and beautifully depicting the magic of the High Sierras.
9. Nate Blakeslee: American Wolf
“With aching, intimate detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of the Yellowstone wolves, O-Six, a charismatic alpha female. As she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is challenged on all fronts: by hunters competing with wolves for the elk they both prize; by cattle ranchers and politicians fighting for a dying way of life; and by other Yellowstone wolves vying for control of the stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.”
Diving deep into the love-hate relationship men has with wolve and the wild. Also as gripping and emotionally involving a field study as you’ll ever read.
10. Diane Ackerman: The Moon by Whale Light
“Whether she’s sexing an alligator barehanded or coaxing a bat to tangle her hair, Diane Ackerman goes to unique – and sometimes terrifying – extremes to observe nature at first hand. The rewards are equal to the risk. Provocative, celebratory, and wise, The Moon by Whale Light is a book that forges extraordinary visceral connections between the reader and the natural world.”
A fascinating book that takes you to places an average traveller doesn’t usually come by and that are far out of most’s comfort zone. The antarctica for example. A far-off bat cave. The deep blue sea, where the whales sing.
These list is of course just a selection. Let me know in the comments below: What are some of your favourite books on the Himalayas, mountaineering and the Himalayan countries?
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