Nature / Outdoors
The "Desert Sage": Abbey is quite a character. I've always wondered if the man
himself was as rough-edged and brash as he pretends to be in his writing. He
tries deliberately to arouse and delights in argument, but there's a deep,
thoughtful, sensitive mind behind the exterior. He makes a lot of really good
arguments (and some bad ones: he could stop littering highways, even if he is
trying to make a statement.)
- Abbey's Road
This is just a series of tales of various adventures Abbey went on during his
life. Not particularly deep, but a fine way to live the wilderness experience
vicariously while stuck in a desk job pining for the pines.
- Desert Solitaire
This is definitely my favorite work of his. It might be his first. He isn't
so arrogant or belligerent here. Very poetic in places, exciting in others,
always thoughtful and thought-provoking.
- The Journey Home
This is written in the same vein as Desert Solitaire. He is much more
mature here, but a little jaded perhaps, as this is toward the end of his
career. Not as perfect a work as Desert Solitaire.
- Monkey Wrench Gang
The original Eco-Terrorist propaganda. Dammit why hasn't some fool-headed
teenager taken his hint and blown up the goddamned dam yet?? A wee bit heavy
handed and... rabid... for my tastes, but worth reading as it is an
historical document in some ways, much like Rachel Carson's Silent
- The Land of Little Rain
Austin is a spunky woman who lived for a while in the wild Owen's Valley back
when there were still Indians living there. Her account of her time spent
there is splendidly poetic, interesting, and beautiful.
Tom Brown, Jr.
There is a lot of myth and debate surrounding Tom Brown and the possibly
fictitious characters he talks about in all his books and classes. I've heard
both sides (and even taken his beginner class). My take on it is: who cares!
His vision and message are pure: just listen to your heart. He teaches of a
way of life that I aspire to in my dreams -- and I'm not the only one. His
message is timely and plays on the heartstrings of a large segment of the
population of modern America. Let us dream and play around harmlessly in the
wilderness in our spare time. If anyone attains the level of perfection and
pureness Tom Brown describes in Grandfather's life, then it doesn't make the
slightest difference if Grandfather existed or not. In any case, all the books
listed below are highly entertaining.
- The Journey
- The Search
- The Tracker
- The Vision
- Holy the Firm
These two are deeper and more esoteric; not as entertaining but still
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Annie Dillard is the modern Thoreau. She is perhaps a bit arrogant in her
aspirations to Deep Thought, but I feel this book is cause to forgive her. It
is a poetic, often scientific, introspective, thoughtful, beautiful book. I
enjoyed it tremendously. (Thoreau, on the other hand is boring as hell, and no
- Teaching a Stone to Talk
- Colin Fletcher's Secret Worlds
This is a luxury read for those of us who enjoyed the two above: there really
isn't anything new or spectacular here; it is just an excuse to enjoy a bunch
more of Fletcher's adventures vicariously.
- The Man Who Walked Through Time
This is his account of walking the length of the Grand Canyon -- below the rim.
Anyone familiar with off-trail travel in the Grand Canyon will recognize that
this is a fantastically masochistic feat. He tries a bit too hard to find
deeper meaning in his wanderings, but he does succeed now and then.
- The Thousand-Mile Summer
This is an account of Fletcher's incredible solitary journey through the most
desolate harsh desert along the eastern border of California. It is
introspective and adventurous. However, I think it might only appeal to the
sort of person (like me) who dreams of doing the same thing himself.
- Beyond Backpacking
I'm not sure which category this little gem belongs in, but I definitely can't
leave it out. Jardine has built up a whole world of myth and debate, but
ignore all that. Just read the darned book: he makes you question every aspect
of the sport of long distance hiking. Whether or not you agree with any of his
techniques is immaterial. I think every prospective long distance hiker will
find at least something useful in this book.
- Coming Out of the Woods
This is sort of an autobiography. It tells of how a poet's romantic vision of
living in the woods is slowly transformed by the realities of life. I found it
very interesting and entertaining. He is a good story teller and has a great
gentle sense of humor.
- Into Thin Air
Krakauer tells of the well-publicized accident on the top of Everest. It is
more than a story of mountain defeating man: it is the story of the arrogance
of wealth overcoming good judgment; of responsibility and humility.
- Into the Wild
The well-known outdoors journalist, Krakauer, researches and tells the tale of
the mysterious death of Chris McCandless. It is the story of reckless youth
searching for itself. He presents the story evenly and fairly, while at
the same time not hiding his personal biases. It is a spectacular piece of
reporting, no matter what you think about what this kid did. (My bias is also
obvious: I admire him for his courage to follow his heart into the wilderness
with such pureness, despite being so unprepared.)
I think this is often listed as a children's novel. Not so. It is the
incredible story of Ishi, the last of his tribe of Yaqui Indians that lived
near Mt. Lassen in California. It is not a happy story, but it describes
their way of life vividly, and follows it through the years as they are forced
to live more and more in hiding until they are scarcely better off than
animals. It is told by an anthropologist who befriends Ishi after he finally
surrenders and walks out to the white man's civilization in the early 1900's.
(There are two other books with very similar titles by the same author which
may be more intellectual treatments of the same subject.) (Incidentally the
Kroebers are the parents of Ursula K. Leguin, the well known sci-fi author.)
- A Sand County Almanac
Leopold writes of his farm in the sand country of Wisconsin and of numerous
experiences and trips he had over his life. He writes very lucidly of long
lost wildernesses and landscapes that no longer exist. He speaks of wolves in
Arizona, the delta of the Colorado River back when water actually flowed in it,
native grass prairies in the mid-west, etc. He has a very trained and keen eye
for the wonderful in nature. It is a fascinating collection of tales and
- Born Naked
This is Mowatt's autobiography. He's got a great sense of humor, and he
lived a fascinating bizarre childhood. (It only covers his childhood.)
- 1000 Mile Walk
This is a little more of a travel account, following Muir as he wandered from
Indiana to Florida, then on to Cuba and California after a severe bout of
malaria. Muir was an amazing man.
- My First Summer in the Sierras
John Muir writes extremely floridly and gushingly, but somehow he alone can get
away with it. My favorite passages were his ironically understated accounts of
his crazy daring exploits, like running about Yosemite valley during a huge
earthquake with boulders calving from the cliffs thousands of feet above him
left and right, or climbing an icy wet cliff to get a better view of the ice
mound under thundering Yosemite Falls.
W. L. Rusho
- Everett Ruess
I don't have much good to say about Rusho's additions to this collection of
writings and artwork of Everett Ruess, but fortunately he did not detract.
Everett, on the other hand, was a fascinating young man, and his story is even
more entrancing. A hopeless romantic artist, he traveled by foot and mule
alone into the tractless deserts of the southwest in the 30's -- a time when
the areas he visited were still known only to the native Indians and a handful
of whites. One day he failed to return and his disappearance has been a
mystery ever since. His enthusiasm for life and the pursuit of beauty pour out
of almost every letter he wrote. This collection really makes you feel like
you knew him personally. I was deeply moved by the poetry of Edward Abbey
included as an afterword.
I don't get into poetry generally, but this is an exception. I especially love
a few passages from The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew. Service
captures a certain mood of what I'd like to think it is like in the "Great
Alone" of Alaska and the Yukon; I can't get enough of it.
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- Wind on the Rock
Zwinger has written a dozen or more books like this, apparently. She has a
keen eye for the wonderful in nature. She describes her experiences artfully
and scientifically, backing up her time a-field with three times as much
research. This book is about the four canyons of the Grand Gulch in
southeastern Utah. I read it just after being in the area myself and
discovered that I missed half of what was right before my eyes.