The Quran, Torah, Bhagavad Gita and the Bible: they’re all scripture that continues to shape and give meaning to Earth’s civilizations. But to some, “holy” is simply defined as what makes us complete. Each of the following six books details the experiences of those who discover a kind of spiritual wholeness in the wild. Whether finding solitude on a rock face or slipping over an a-ha moment while skiing, many authors fuse inner landscapes with the outside world to explore the old adage of “being one with nature.” From a mid-19th century philosopher out on a forest meander to a young woman who falls asleep beside a purring cougar, these personal quests link people with something greater than themselves. If you’re lucky, at least one of these books will nudge you — or your kids — out the door, tapping into what is holy for you.
A timeless tale of young independence, the book is dedicated “to the bit of Sam Gribley in the children and adults around me now,” writes author Jean Craighead George.
Gribley is a rugged little gaffer who turns an old tree stump into his home, befriends a weasel, trains a falcon to catch rabbits for breakfast, and then sews himself a deer-skin suit. He lives mostly alone and off-the-land through the seasons, surviving and thriving in mountain wilderness in a way most of us only fantasized about as kids.
Winner of the 1979 National Book Award, The Snow Leopard intimately details an expedition Matthiessen describes as being “a journey of the heart” where geographical, spiritual and emotional terrain are navigated and conveyed with evocative precision, diary-style. How many people have set this book down and promptly booked a flight to Nepal? Matthiessen plants seeds of wonder by craftily stitching soulful reflections into his descriptions of the Himalayan landscape. Now considered a classic in the non-fiction nature department, The Snow Leopard will leave you as taut and silent as the cold air it was written in.
In this pint-sized book, LaChapelle describes the full-bodied, non-rational immersion she experienced while skiing powder in Alta, Utah, and how the process of being caught in an avalanche “freed” her from feeling confined to her Catholic beliefs and upbringing.
Known as both a skilled mountaineer and a contributor to the Deep Ecology movement, LaChapelle weaves philosophy, skiing history, and personal anecdote together, offering a narrative on how to live in accordance with nature. The result is very much like the lines LaChapelle would have drawn down an untouched slope: rhythmic and fluid, as though in a dance. She passed away in 2006 at 81 years old. This was her fourth and final book. Originally priced at $6.95, a used copy now fetches up to $300 online.
In Becoming Wild, the author intertwines ancient survival tips with “holy-shiza” anecdotes that make your hands seem city-soft and your guts a bit jumpy. The friends and Van Schyndel’s cat Scout were completely embedded in coastal wilderness, blurring the human-nature divide.
The book also has a spiritual element as Van Schyndel reflects on the inter-reliance between herself and the natural world. “I didn’t find religion in the Bible” she writes. “I found a truth that resonated with my soul.”
“What we call a mountain,” he writes, “is thus in fact a collaboration of the physical forms of the world with the imagination of humans — a mountain of the mind.” Although occasionally critiqued for being too Euro-focused, MacFarlane poetically pieces together the ideas, emotions and metaphors that have culminated in a collective desire to stand on and amidst rocky spires.
Published anonymously in 1836, “Nature” is considered one of Emerson’s earliest manifestos for transcendentalism, a religious, philosophical and literary movement that sought a deeper relationship with the physical universe. Thoreau’s “Walking” came almost 30 years later. An advocate for spending at least four hours a day “sauntering through woods and over the hill and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements,” Thoreau details how the act of walking in the wilds can spur on a spiritual connection with nature, providing metaphysical guidance that conformed thinking lacks.
A century and a half has passed since the essay was first published and still it resonates in a way that is both light and dark. “In Wildness is the preservation of the World,” writes Thoreau.