Nature Writers: Worthy of Our Thanks

by Andy and Tami McDaniels

Through the passionate wilderness writings of authors like Jaeger, Roosevelt, and Leopold, we have understood and felt the need to connect with the natural world. These writers, and many more like them, have inspired us to spend time in the great outdoors, become stewards of our environment, and contemplate our relationship with nature. They have taught us new outdoor techniques and provided us with information to improve upon tried and true methods. They have opened our minds to the possibility that the outdoors can motivate us to live better lives.

Given that November is a month of giving thanks, I thought it appropriate to take time to give thanks to a few of the writers who have given us books about the wild which have been inspirational and enlightening to all who have read them. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading a book by one of these authors, I hope what you read here will encourage you to do so.

Ellsworth Jaeger (1897-1962)

Perhaps not the most well-known of this category of writers, Ellsworth Jaeger was an editor, an author, and a curator of education at the Buffalo Science Museum. He wrote and illustrated seven books includingWildwood WisdomNature CraftsTracks and TrailcraftCouncil Fires, and Easy Crafts.

Jaeger traveled extensively throughout the wilderness areas of Canada, the United States and Mexico and dedicated his life to researching various Native American tribes, such as the Iroquois, Blackfoot, Apache,Pueblo, and Navajo. He was considered an authority on American Indian lore and camping.

The book jacket cover of Wildwood Wisdom includes a warning, “…the author’s enthusiasm for wildwood is so infectious that you will be lured away from suburb or city.” Indeed, you will be lured. It’s impossible to read this book without wanting to test some of the ideas and techniques in his 197 detailed illustrations. The comprehensive 491-page book, mainly addressed to campers, was originally published in 1945, and is not only a guide to every imaginable aspect of wilderness life, but also an enjoyable read and historical account of life in America in the 1800s.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

Our twenty-sixth president was a historian, an author, a statesman, a hunter, an orator, a rancher, and a naturalist. Reading and writing were two of his favorite pastimes. He often read an entire book in one day, and he authored over 35 books on many different subjects including hunting and wilderness pursuits. One such book, A Book Lover’s Holiday in the Open, gives Roosevelt’s advice about how man can get in touch with the natural world. Crack open the cover of the 1916 edition, and you will read:

The beauty and charm of the wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of the wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of present travel. He can see the red splendor of desert sunsets and the unearthly glory of the afterglow on the battlements of desolate mountains. In sapphire gulfs of ocean he can visit islets, above which the wings of myriads of sea-fowl make a kind of shifting cuneiform script in the air. He can ride along the brink of the stupendous cliff-walled canyon, where eagles soar below him, and cougars make their lairs on the ledges and harry the big-horned sheep. He can journey through the northern forests, the home of the giant moose, the forests of fragrant and murmuring life in summer, the iron-bound and melancholy forests of winter.

-Theodore Roosevelt, A Book Lover’s Holiday in the Open

This autobiographical collection of stories encourages us to step outside our comfort zone and discover the majesty of the outdoors. Each chapter describes a unique wilderness adventure, such as a cougar hunt, crossing the Navajo Desert, and a “curious experience” at a private game reserve in Quebec.

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)

Aldo Leopold was an author, an ecologist, a forester, a scientist, and an environmentalist. He is acknowledged by many as the father of wildlife ecology. His book A Sand County Almanac is a classic of nature writing, cited as one of the most influential nature books ever published.

Leopold utilizes A Sand County Almanac and its call for a Land Ethic, a seminal work of the modern environmentalist movement, to articulate the true connection between people and the natural world, with the hope that the readers will begin to treat the land with the love and respect it deserves. (The Aldo Leopold Foundation)

There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.

-Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Each of the authors gave us a gift when they took time to share their love and knowledge of nature with us. Not just those that I’ve highlighted, but all the men and women that dedicate their lives to writing about the natural world are truly worthy of thanks.

You can find the above mentioned books at retailers that sell new, used, and collectible books, likeAbeBooks. The holiday season is a perfect time to catch up on reading and share your favorite books with others. What could be a better gift to give someone special than a gift that sparks a passion for the outdoors?