As I sit here with my newborn baby girl, I realized I can’t let the end of the year go by without posting my favorite outdoor books of the year. I could say that the end of the year snuck up on me, but pregnancy has the magical power of slowing down time, especially in the third trimester. But I can say that my reading has skewed a bit toward Babylit, S is for Salmon and books that tell you all the things that can go wrong while delivering a baby. But here and there I got in a little outdoor time and a few outdoor books to satisfy my cravings. Here are my favorites from 2016.
To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
When I found out that a new book by Eowyn Ivey was coming out this year, I marked it my calendar. Her novel, The Snow Child, is one of my very favorites and this newest historical novel, also set in her home state of Alaska, does not disappoint. Set in 1885, Colonel Allen Forrester leaves his pregnant wife, Sophie, behind to embark on a mission to explore the Wolverine River valley, an uncharted part of the Alaskan Territory. It is a difficult and trying journey as they map the valley and collect local knowledge from reluctant native tribes. With little news of her husband’s well being, Sophie distracts herself by learning photography. The intertwined stories are told in journal and letter forms with lovely photos throughout. In typical Ivey fashion, there is just a hint of magical realism that is oh so satisfying. I really enjoyed living just for a little bit in Ivey’s adventurous and rugged Alaska again.
The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams
Terry Tempest Williams’ essays about her experiences in our National Parks, need I say more? She shares deeply personal stories of her time with her father in the Grand Tetons, thoughts of her brother in the arctic of Alaska and ponders the state of racism in our country while she visits Gettysburg. Her brilliant and humble voice breathes life into these places and reminds us why they are so important. At a time when our Parks are under-funded and over-visited, this book gives us much needed wisdom and perspective. Terry Tempest Williams is one of the most important writers and activists of our time, and we are so lucky she gave us this book.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
I so loved visiting Hope Jahren’s world for just a little while. She is a renowned scientist who grew up exploring her father’s science lab while he was a professor. She found her comfortable space, a place where she felt welcome and safe. So naturally she set out to become a scientist and have a lab of her own. But years of budget cuts and writing grant proposals wore on her and breakdowns were frequent. She enlists an eccentric friend to take on her dream with her and they travel the country in search of a home base. Hope’s memoir is one that seeps into your bones and never leaves you. I highly recommend listening to the audio book, read by the author herself, for a more intimate experience. I adored every minute of it.
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman
Braverman left her California home at age 18 to learn to drive sled dogs in Norway. She fell in love with the Arctic amidst her fears and reservations of being a young woman in a man’s world. When she later worked as a tour guide on an Alaskan glacier, she braved whiteouts, unprepared guests, and an abusive relationship with a fellow guide. This memoir is a fast paced, yet quiet and reserved, coming of age story of a resilient and determined woman who found her place in the white world of the North.
Fast Into The Night by Debbie Clarke Moderow
Debbie fell in love with mushing after a friend gave her an old sled dog, Salt, for a pet during a hard time in her life. She was in her forties and a mother of two when she finally decided to run the Iditarod. She had experience running other races and had the full support of her family, all mushers in their own right, but unfortunately had to scratch on her first try. Two years later, Debbie was back on the trail with her memorable dogs Kanga, Juliet, Lil’ Su, Piney, Creek, Zeppy, Nacho and Taiga. This time, her tenacity and resilience got her to the finish line on Nome. This is a beautiful story of love and dedication between a family and their dogs.
On Trails by Robert Moor
Moor has hiked many miles on the trails and in 2009, he completed the Appalachian Trail. But this is not just a memoir of his trips, it’s a historical and philosophical look at why trails are formed, how they form and what motivates beings to want to travel them. Over seven years, he traveled the world to visit well-beaten trails to answer these questions. He visits ancient trails that span continents formed by the first organisms to migrate as well as well-beaten Native American trails and trails that served as precursors to our highway system. I greatly enjoyed reading this unique and quizative look into my favorite pastime and appreciated Moor’s brilliant and thought-provoking writing.
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
This book blew my mind from the very beginning. Wohlleben pulls together the latest scientific research to make a case that trees are social beings and work together to create livable forests. He argues that trees communicate with each other, share nutrients and even warn each other of danger. He says that trees can be friends and share their space by growing their branches away from each other and they even talk to each other through their roots. I have to admit, it all sounds a bit magical. But, if you’ve ever walked through a forest and felt its energy, you might just recognize the magic.