Whenever I’m feeling distraught or confused about life, I like to either go on a walk or tend to my garden (depending on the season and my energy levels). That connection with the natural world always seems to help me focus and find a deeper sense of purpose, even if that purpose is as simple as caring for the plants I have grown or being mindful to the world around me.
If you’re looking for a similar sense of clarity, you can’t go wrong with a memoir about others’ experiences in the natural world and musings on the environment. You might not find answers that match up exactly with what you’re going for, but you may find inspiration to begin your own search. Plus, if you’re a bit of an armchair traveler, nature memoirs often have breathtaking descriptions — and there’s enough out there to let you experience wonderful places all over the world through the eyes of another person.
In these nine thought-provoking nature memoirs, readers can learn more about humanity’s responsibility to the plants and animals we coexist with, live vicariously through one man’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail over the summer, and reflect on the hidden beauties of nature.
BRAIDING SWEETGRASS: INDIGENOUS WISDOM, SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AND THE TEACHINGS OF PLANTS BY ROBIN WALL KIMMERER
Blending personal experiences with science writing, Robin Wall Kimmer examines humanity’s need for an intimate and reciprocal relationship with the plants around us. A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer analyzes the wisdom of the natural world through her cultural heritage and her background as a biologist.
The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo
Although New York comedian Derick Lugo had never hiked before, he found himself with a free summer schedule and a curiosity about the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail. With plenty of optimism but limited and somewhat misguided hiking knowledge, he set off to complete the whole trail in one go. This memoir details his experiences tackling this seemingly insurmountable challenge with humor and heart — along with how he earned the nickname “Mr. Fabulous” from his fellow hikers.
Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams
After her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, scientist Terry Tempest Williams reflects on tragedy in Utah’s natural and human world. In this essay collection, she interweaves the death of the birds she studied following a flood and her family’s exposure to radiation poisoning in her desert hometown following the atomic bomb tests in the 1950s.
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Although the poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil moved frequently as a child, she was always able to connect with and find awe in the wildlife surrounding her. In this warm and wonder-infused essay collection, she reflects on the lessons she has learned from nature and the connection every person has with the natural world.
Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler
When Alys Fowler embarked on a journey to explore Birmingham’s canal network, her reflections turned as deeply to herself as it did to the intricate waterways surrounding her. With an intimate and emotionally profound lens, she details her experience finding beauty in the often invisible natural world and coming out after realizing she is queer later in life.
Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald
Vesper Flights is a collection of essays that focus on the connection between humans and animals from the lens of the author’s personal experiences. Each one explores the beauty and uniqueness of wildlife like wild boars, birds’ nests, and mushrooms.
Six Square Metres: Reflections from a Small Garden by Margaret Simons
Despite living in suburban Australia, journalist and avid gardener Margaret Simons connects with nature and muses on the beauty and sorrow of her life through her garden. Organized by the four seasons, this memoir reflects on the author’s simplistic and contented view of life as she tends to her garden over the course of a year.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
After being struck by a mysterious and debilitating illness, essayist Elisabeth Tova Bailey became bedridden. She found herself fascinated by her bedside companion — a wild snail living in her terrarium. In this memoir, she observes the snail’s fascinating habits and anatomy in a way that helps her make sense of her illness and greater place in the world.
Walking: One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge
Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge uses his own experiences and philosophical musings to discuss the art of walking. He asks readers to reflect on questions about what it means to go on a journey, what meaning we give our destinations, and our relationship with the outdoor world — and explores many of these questions in a thoughtful, lyrical writing style.
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- Books About Sustainability and Nature
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- 8 Queer Books That Explore Place, Nature & The Environment
- Of Women and Nature: Novels with an Ecofeminist Bent
- A Brief Guide to Ecofiction by BIPOC Authors