When it comes to the holidays, you and yours probably have garages and basements full of gear. So let’s inspire the mind. Here are some outdoor literary gifts to spark adventure with your loved ones and outdoor pals. When it’s dark and cold outside and craving the wild open landscape of exploration instead of holiday events, they’ll take you their, at least in spirit. Fire up the woodstove and put your feet up.
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
Few books have embraced such a large, forbidding, and poorly understood region as Lopez’s sweeping masterpiece. He brings his reader along on a journey across the Arctic, following herds of caribou, native villages straddling traditional societies and modern life, polar bear biologists who rely on equal parts science and native knowledge of the landscape, oil surveyors, muskox, and ice, an migratory birds. Lopez, the pre-eminent living nature writer, saw in 1986 the beginnings of transformations of the Arctic region that is accelerating today. His writing is as captivating as the landscape.
Born Naked by Farley Mowat
The preeminent nature writer in Canada, Mowat, spent a lifetime writing both about how nature affected his life on a personal level. Born Naked is part childhood hilarity, part origin story, and unadorned recollection of outdoor adventures and misadventures. From childhood vacations, ill-conceived river trips that lacked a river, cavorting with owls, and sailing adventures with Mutt, Mowat’s now-famous family dog, you’ll be laughing and reminiscing about your own childhood the whole time.
Homelands: Kayaking the Inside Passage by Byron Ricks
There are two journeys in Ricks’ and his wife’s kayak journey from Alaska’s Glacier Bay to their home in the southern edge of Puget Sound. The first is tan actual paddle trip through the string of islands and fjords that cling to the western edge of the continent from tidewater glaciers to Seattle’s glass and steel towers. The second “inside passage” is a journey into their own psyches. Recreational paddlers more than serious adventurers, Bryon and Maren bring their insecurities, fears, joys, and discoveries of the landscape and themselves to the page as they adapt to life on the water, only to be thrust back into civilization as they paddle south. Many have taken this journey and written about it. Few have done so in the same way.
Into the Silence by Wade Davis
Countless books have been written about Mount Everest, and even more about the conflagration that was the First World War. Few have linked them. Davis looks deep into the spirit of George Mallory and the 1924 expedition to climb Everest in 1924, where they seemed to vanish into the sky. (Mallory’s body was found in 2007). Davis starts their climbing journey in the trenches of Europe and a nation traumatized by war. Davis makes a rare and insightful glimpse into what motivates people to great height, and the haunting lure of mountains on the human spirit.
Leaving Alaska by Grant Sims
Alaska has always evoked idealized visions of various paradises: wilderness, frontier ruggedness, endless resources like fish, oil, or timber, or refuge for those trying to “Light out for the territories ahead of the rest.” Then the Exxon Valdez shattered both its hull, and the innocence of that vision on Bligh Reef. Sims takes in the effect on the souls of Alaskans in the wake of both the spill, and all the while he wrestles with his own sense of place. He brings the reader along with his heartache as few can. You won’t look at Alaska the same way again.
The River of Doubt by Candace Millard
Most former Presidents work the lecture circuit and write the memoirs. One decided it would be fun to explore an uncharted river in one of the most dangerous places in the world. After leaving the White House, Theodore Roosevelt joined an expedition to explore an uncharted tributary of the Amazon, a journey on which he nearly died multiple times. A portrait of a river, and expedition and the Amazon itself, Millard’s account is thrilling, terrifying, and inspiring at the same time.
The River Why By David James Duncan
Written as the coming-of-age tale of a fish-obsessed kid in Portland, Oregon, Duncan’s book is much more. At times hilarious and at times transcendent, the reader absorbs a deep love of rivers, the desire of a growing child to break free, and how landscapes shape people. Duncan weaves a potent mix of obsession, quest and self-examination familiar to any outdoor adventurer. Hint: skip the movie.
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant
When an Amur tiger kills a subsistence hunter in an isolated corner of the Russian Far East, the leader of a team of anti-poaching conservationists, is called in. With tigers, and with Valliant, nothing is quite as it seems. Vaillant pulls the lid off of a complex stew: tigers, conservation and livelihoods in post-Soviet Russia, and the rare characters that inhabit the endless taiga of a forgotten region, and the eons-long interactions between humans and big cats. You won’t forget Yuri Trush or Vladimir Markov for a long time.