No doubt about it. The wilderness is an absolutely inspiring place to visit. However, we certainly can’t be hanging out in the forests or atop the mountains all the time.
So how do we stay connected and inspired? One excellent way to remain in contact with nature is through books — allowing words to describe an outdoor setting we recognize or dream of visiting. Sometimes it takes stories of adventures gone terribly wrong, followed by survival and then successfully returning to civilization to tell the tale. In other instances, humor guides stories of travel and adventure in surprisingly inspiring ways.
As you’ll see below, the staff here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) has assembled a list of books and stories we make for a great summer reading list — one that can inspire even the most temporarily sedentary reader among us. Included with each recommended read is a suggested pairing — not for beer or wine but a Course or Training offered by NCOAE. (Note: Clicking on any of the book covers below will lead you to that book’s page on Amazon.com.)
We hope you’ll enjoy these books as much as we have:
Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Alaskan wilderness and homesteading in the 1920s sets the stage for this beautifully written book that explores what is real and what lives in our imagination. An old couple living and trying to thrive in brutal conditions build a child out of snow. When looking out the window the following day the see the snow child is gone, and tracks leads from the spot it was built into the nearby wilderness. Faina (the snow child) is an incredibly strong female character that defies everything you would think about a child living alone in the wilderness. This is a story about beliefs and the transformation of individuals and community. And a bonus is the description of a frigid climate that will keep you cool on the hot nights of summer. Best paired with NCOAE’s Outdoor Educator Alaska Course.
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Desert Solitaire takes place during a trying time in our nation, ranging from the Vietnam War to attempting to make new civil rights laws workable. There was man’s first walk on the moon, and the assassination of and two Kennedy brothers in the preceding years. Abbey recounts his time living and working in the harsh, yet beautiful deserts of Utah during this time. It was a period when mankind was questioning the wisdom of the choices our society was making. Abbey’s voice and blunt wisdom examine his own journey to discover his personal wilderness ethic and enable us to examine our own. Best paired with NCOAE’s Semester in Kenya.
Wildwood by Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis
Wildwood is the story of Prue and her friend Curtis who find themselves on a quest to find Prue’s brother who has been kidnapped and taken into the Impassable Wilderness on the perimeter of Portland, Oregon. The story take many beautiful twists and turns as Prue finds herself in the center of the struggle to save the wilderness that makes up Wildwood. Written for young adults, Wildwood will appeal to anyone who enjoys adventure and exploration of new lands. Best paired with NCOAE’s Women’s Wilderness Initiative Course or our Education Without Walls experience for youth living at or below the poverty level.
Trespassing Across America by Ken Ilgunas
Ken Ilgunas takes a great leap from working as a dishwasher in the oil fields in the frozen tundra to hiking from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast along the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. There is no trail designation for this journey. And it became necessary for Ilgunas to cross private lands and meet the people who own the land upon which he is trespassing. And if you thought there are no more lands to explore, the author gives us reason to go out and look in our backyard for truly wild expeditions and exploration. This book will open your eyes to the way the transport of fossil fuels has shaped our wildest of lands, the animals that live there and the people who call it home. Best paired with any NCOAE semester length course.
Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart
Horace Kephart is the John Muir of the East. One of the principle players in the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he spent years exploring the people and places that make up the Appalachian Mountain region of North Carolina and Tennessee. The book has inspiring tales of survival in a landscape without trails — filled with trappers, explorers and characters on the run. Kephart’s writing is simple and engaging, just like the best storytellers of the region. Best paired with NCOAE’s Outdoor Educator Course in North Carolina.
Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer
Eiger Dreams is often forgotten about and overshadowed by Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Into the Wild. In Eiger Dreams, Krakauer is not a casual observer of others’ adventure and misfortune. Instead, he is the main participant in a book that is a reflection of his successes, failures and near-death experience. Reading his account of climbing Alaska’s Devil’s Thumb, the reader becomes breathless during tense moments and pages later, amused by his follies in such a remote landscape. Krakauer’s writing explodes with beautiful description of the environment as well as heartfelt encounters and relationships with the characters with whom he shares his experiences. Best paired with NCOAE’s Outdoor Educator Course in Alaska or our Outdoor Educator Course in Patagonia.
The Meek Mountaineer by Frederick L Jacobson
This book is Jacobson’s personal account of his introduction to climbing in the Swiss Alps, his obsession with scaling the Matterhorn and his eventually participation in the creation of the Appalachian Mountain Club. Jacobson is an average person falling in love with the life of mountaineering and the community and environment that he becomes a part of. The Meek Mountaineer is a great reminder that we all possess the potential to be explorers and adventurers on our own terms and within our ability levels. Best paired with NCOAE’s Gap Year / Semester Courses
Our reading suggestions target downtime from adventure, but following an NCOAE wilderness course, you might be inspired to pen your own inspirational story.