I’m preparing for a backpacking trip in Yosemite next weekend. It will be my first visit to the park, and it includes homework! I’m going with a friend who suggested that we both read John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra before we depart. It was a fantastic idea. Muir’s observations, penned over a century ago, are enthralling, and his enthusiasm and wonder are charming. In the Sierra, Muir finds “beauty beyond thought everywhere, beneath, above, made and being made forever.”
Of course, after falling in love with Yosemite during the summer of 1869, Muir would go on to champion and protect much of that land in the years to come. It is thrilling to read his eloquent first impressions of this special place just before I’ll be seeing it for the very first time myself.
I love the idea of reading as inspiration or preparation for time spent in nature. Half a century before Muir’s narrative was published, Thoreau’s iconic Walden inspired his contemporaries to seek out experiences in nature at a time when leaving civilization behind seemed a rather silly, or even a flat-out crazy, thing to do.
Now outdoor recreation is wildly popular (pun intended), and a plethora of reading materials cover all kinds of forays into the wild… such as, well, Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer’s bestselling nonfiction account of Christopher McCandless’ solo journey into the Alaskan wilderness, from which he tragically did not return (there’s also a film version).
One of my favorite books in this genre is Wild, by the smart and funny Cheryl Strayed, about her harrowing experiences leading up to and during her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail (in boots one size too small, no less). Another favorite is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, the hilarious and well-researched story of the author’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail.
I think it enriches our outdoors experiences to read the work of talented writers who can articulate what many of us feel about nature, but can’t quite express. But no matter how well-written, literature can’t replace actual time spent in nature, especially among the magnificent redwoods. These books make me want to get out into the forest, and when I can’t do that, they at least make me feel a little bit like I’m there.
What are your favorite reads for a real or simulated escape into nature? Please share them here!