We don’t just live on this planet; we’re part of it. These books help foster a stronger relationship with the living world around us.
In 1851, Henry David Thoreau wrote that he came to the woods “as a hungry man to a crust of bread.” More than 150 years later, many of us continue to crave the forest. These four books provide a variety of fun ways to immerse yourself in the natural world.
If you’re searching for a perfect gift book with broad appeal, 100 Things to Do in a Forest by Jennifer Davis may be the answer. Inside are 100 creative ways to spice up your woodsy wanderings, brought to life with colorful illustrations by Eleanor Taylor. Creative types will appreciate recipes for hedgerow jam and campfire bread. Kids of all ages will love making a grass whistle. Try a dice-rolling walk or (yikes!) cowpat Frisbee—although Davis assures readers that cow “poo is not smelly, dirty or harmful.” There are suggestions for woodland yoga, meditating or local gifting, such as leaving a book in a tree for someone else to find. Pair 100 Things to Do in a Forest with a local trail guide, and keep an outdoor lover busy for many happy months.
“There has always been singing in dark times—and wonder is needed now more than ever.”
Congress created the National Trails System in 1968, and since then it has designated 19 National Historic Trails that commemorate and protect routes of historic significance, special places that allow hikers to experience firsthand “the intersection of story and landscape,” as Karen Berger explains in America’s National Historic Trails: In the Footsteps of History. Some trails are coastal routes, while others cross the inland landscape, and they range in length from 54 to 5,000 miles. Stretching across time and weaving throughout the nation’s history, they include the East Coast’s Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Oregon Trail, Alaska’s Iditarod Trail, Hawaii’s Ala Kahakai Trail and many more.
Each entry contains stunning photographs by Bart Smith and a detailed discussion of the history and geography of the route, as well as a list of specific historic sites, such as museums and visitors’ centers, along the way. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast or both, America’s National Historic Trails offers a wealth of touring possibilities. I’m already making a list.
When a great horned owl perched on my deck railing one winter afternoon, it felt like a mysterious, magical and majestic visitor had arrived. Keep a copy of The Backyard Birdwatcher’s Bible close at hand, and you’ll be more than ready to identify your own winged guests. Compiled by an impressive team of experts, the book contains a lengthy identification guide with corresponding photos. A discussion of “Birdwatching for Beginners” explains that migration pathways are inherited. Astonishingly, a common cuckoo chick raised by a foster parent can migrate months after its genetic parents have left and still find its way to Africa.
The “Birds in Art” section is especially fascinating, showcasing a variety of artists and their work. Some of their stories will astound you, such as English photographer Eric Hosking, who was struck by a tawny owl and lost sight in one eye. Undeterred from his passion, he went on to take “the first ever flash photograph—ironically, of an owl with its prey.”
There are also helpful tips on how to attract birds, with step-by-step instructions for building a nest box. Grab a pair of binoculars, and you’ll be all set.
A follow-up to the bestselling The Lost Words, The Lost Spells is a combination of Robert MacFarlane’s acrostics (poems in which each line begins with a letter to spell out a word) and Jackie Morris’ illustrations of the natural world. Suitable for adults as well as younger readers, the book celebrates a range of flora and fauna, including a red fox, goldfinch, oak tree and snow hare. Calling this “a book of spells to be spoken aloud,” nature writer MacFarlane (Underland) writes, “Loss is the tune of our age, hard to miss and hard to bear. Creatures, places and words disappear, day after day, year on year. But there has always been singing in dark times—and wonder is needed now more than ever.”
This is a decidedly heartfelt volume, with accessible poems that somehow feel sacred. Morris’ hauntingly beautiful watercolors are perfectly matched to the spirit of the text. Should you find yourself unable to go outside, cozying up with The Lost Spells is the next best thing.