Nature Writing to Inspire and Console

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Aldo Leopold's Shack

Aldo Leopold's Shack

Abbey, Edward (1927-1989). 

Desert Solitare: A Season in the Wilderness, 1968, describes the season Abbey spent as a ranger in Arches National Park in Utah. Although he wrote much other nonfiction and fiction, this is considered his best and most unified work, full of adventure, humor, and a strong political and philosophical defense of the wilderness as wilderness.

Beston, Henry (1888-1968).
Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod, 1928. Beston built a cabin at the end of Cape Cod and lived there alone through one winter. His descriptions of his environment and experiences, particularly the experience of solitude, are rich and atmospheric.

Burroughs, John (1837-1921).
Wake-Robin, 1871. Burroughs' first published nature essay collection of a body of work that would span 23 volumes. Also an influential poet and critic, Burroughs brought literary style - he was a friend to and influenced by Walt Whitman - to his closely observed nature studies. Since 1921, the American Museum of Natural History has given an annual medal in his name for nature writing. Wake Robin shows his characteristic method of imparting a direct experience of nature through concrete observation.

Carson, Rachel (1907-1964).
The Sea Around Us, 1951. A beautifully written comprehensive study of all aspects of the sea - its geologic history, ecology, effect on the rest of the earth and its inhabitants - that won the Burroughs Medal and National Book Award.

Cooper, Susan Fenimore (1813-1894).
Rural Hours, 1850. The book is a close observation of the cycles of nature and life during the course of one year in the rural area around Cooperstown, NY by the daughter of James Fenimore Cooper and the first American woman nature writer.

Dillard, Annie (1945- ).
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974, won the Pulitzer Prize and is based on four seasons that Dillard experienced on nature walks. She combines effectively spiritual autobiography, minutely observed nature studies, transcendentalism, and theology.

Douglas, Marjorie Stoneman (1890-1998).
The Everglades: River of Grass, 1947. An environmental activist as well as nature writer, Stoneman brought to national attention the importance of the Everglades as a unique and threatened ecosystem at a time when it was considered just wasted space. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993.

Ehrlich, Gretel (1946- )
The Solace of Open Spaces, 1985, is a collection of essays on Ehrlich's experiences working on a Wyoming ranch and recovering from the death of her lover. A poet as well as nature writer, she evokes the beauty and restorative power of the wide open landscape and the community of humans drawn to it.

Grange, Wallace (1905-1987)
Those of the Forest, a fictionalized account of life in the wild by a Wisconsin pioneer in the science of game management and a friend and neighbor of Aldo Leopold.

Hoagland, Edward (1932- ).
Walking the Dead Diamond River, 1973, nominated for the National Book Award, displays Hoagland's non-linear, highly personal style. A continuing theme is the relationship between the human and the natural worlds.

Hoover, Helen (1910-1984)
The Gift of Deer, 1966, the story of the author's relationship with a family of deer over the course of several years, woven together with accounts of life in the Minnesota northwoods, where she and her husband came to settle, abandoning professional careers in Chicago.

Hubbell, Sue (1935- )
A Book of Bees: ...and How to Keep Them, 1988, goes beyond a how-to manual to a compendium of bee lore, scientific information on entomology, and poetic yet unsentimental reflections on the joys of country living.

Kappel-Smith, Diana (1951- ).
Wintering, 1984, is a collection of essays and pencil drawings on the abundance of life, including at the microscopic level, in the so-called dead of winter on the author's sheep farm in northern Vermont. Kappel-Smith is a trained biologist as well as artist, so the essays are an eloquent blend of poetry and science.

Krutch, Joseph Wood (1863-1970).
The Desert Year, 1952, won of the Burroughs Medal. In it, Krutch describes his first year in the Arizona desert - he was on sabbatical from Columbia University - when he fell in love with it and decided to change careers and move there.

Leopold, Aldo (1886-1948).
A Sand County Almanac, 1949, winner of the Burroughs Medal, is a collection of beautifully written essays, including close observations of natural life and rhythms as seen from his shack in central Wisconsin (now an historic site) and musings on the interconnectedness of all life forms and the need for reform in people's relationship to the land, his "land ethic." It provides the philosophical basis for the environmental movement.

Linbergh, Anne Morrow (1907-2001)
Gift From the Sea, 1955. Meditations on youth and age; love and marriage; peace, solitude and contentment inspired by a sojourn at the seaside.

Lopez, Barry (1945-
Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape,
1986, a natural history and meditation on the effect of landscape on personal spiritual growth, won the National Book Award.

Matthiessen, Peter (1927- )
Sand Rivers, 1981, winner of the Burroughs Medal, describes Matthiessen's visit to a Tanzanian game reserve to observe the unique wildlife of Africa before it disappears.

Momaday, N. Scott (1934- ).
The Way to Rainy Mountain, 1969. Momaday recreates the migration of his Kiowa ancestors across the Northern Great Plains. His observations are infused with a sense of the sacredness of the natural world he travels through, what he sees as a Native American sensibility different from that of modern Western civilization.

Mowat, Farley (1921- )
Never Cry Wolf, 1963. Based on years of studying wolf behavior in the Canadian wilderness, this is an eloquent defense of the animal which has had a significant impact on attitudes and policies.

Muir, John (1838-1914)
My First Summer in the Sierra, 1911. Considered Muir's classic work, it is an ecstatic diary of his wanderings in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in 1869. Although he considered himself primarily an adventurer and conservationist and found writing difficult, his style, robust and deeply spiritual, evoking a sense of being at home in the wilderness, struck a chord with readers and inspired the movement to preserve these areas as national parks.

Nelson, Richard (1941- ).
The Island Within, 1989. An autobiographical account of a hunter's year on an island off the coast of Alaska, it won the Burroughs Medal. Subsistance hunting, as he learned it from Native Americans, is depicted as the sacred communion between predator and prey, the means by which the author becomes a part of the island.

Olson, Sigurd (1899-1982)
Wilderness Days, 1972, won the Burroughs Medal. It includes selections from his previous works plus new material , all describing what he knew best, the northwoods country bordering Lake Superior. An environmental activist as well as writer, Olson advocated for the preservation of wilderness as places of spiritual renewal for humans.

Teale, Edwin Way (1899-1980)
Near Horizons: The Story of an Insect Garden,1942, an account of his exploration of the insect world inhabiting a small plot of land he had rented on Long Island, won the Burroughs Medal. He saw it as a microcosm of the larger human world, with the behavior of insects providing lessons for humans. Teale is credited with popularizing nature writing, especially for children.

Thoreau, Henry David (1817-1862)
Walden, or a Life in the Woods, 1854. The basis for all subsequent American nature writing, this idealized account of his life in a cabin on Walden Pond combines meticulous nature studies with a philosophy of simple living and communing with nature.

Williams, Terry Tempest (1955- )
Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, 1991, is a memoir by an eco-feminist of her mother's death from cancer, probably as a result of nuclear testing in Nevada, and the destruction of a migratory bird refuge from the rise of the Great Salt Lake. Sadness and rage is combined with a love of nature and family.

Zwinger, Ann (1925 - )
Run, River, Run: A Naturalist's Journey Down One of the Great Rivers of the West, 1975, won the Burroughs Medal and portrays the natural and human history of the Green River of Wyoming and Utah using her own adventures and detailed observations plus insights from previous explorers and inhabitants.



Helene Androski for Wisconsin Library Association Readers Section
Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians Conference 2006