10 outdoorsy books for stormy days, or holiday gifts

Cold, rainy, windy and gloomy — that’s been the past week or so. And in my opinion, the only thing to do during that type of weather is curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book.

Personally, I enjoy a wide variety of books. I read almost every night before I go to bed. Sci-fi thrillers, historical fiction, young adult fantasy novels, biographies, I’ll give just about anything a try. But in theme with this blog, I’ve decided — in light of the recently lousy weather — I’d offer a list of particularly outdoorsy books from my at-home library. These books are about outdoor exploration, the natural world, adventure, and many of them inspired me to start writing about these things.

I’m hoping that from the following list, a book will jump out at you and you’ll give it a try. Some are old titles, others are new. But they’re all perfect for a rainy or snowy day reading. And as the holidays are swiftly approaching, I should mention that these books would also make for great gifts, especially for that outdoorsy person on your list.

“Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains” by Jon Krakauer

A mountaineer and journalist, Krakauer is mostly known for his nonfiction books about mountaineering and other outdoorsy topics. Some of his most popular works include “Into Thin Air” and “Into the Wild,” which was adapted into a feature film in 2007. But sometimes his detailed writing can bog me down, especially if I’m just looking for a quick read on a rainy afternoon. That’s one reason I really enjoy “Eiger Dreams,” a 2009 collection of some of Krakauer’s best work from magazines such as Outdoors and Smithsonian. These short stories are about exploring famous peaks including Denali, Everest and Eiger.

“The Snow Leopard” by Peter Matthiessen

First published in 1978, “The Snow Leopard” is a nonfiction account of the author’s travels in the remote mountains of Nepal to study Himalayan blue sheep, with the hopes of glimpsing the region’s rare and elusive snow leopard. A student of Zen Buddhism, the author is also on a spiritual quest to find the Lama of Shey at the ancient shrine of Crystal Mountain. With many layers, the story is one that combines observations of nature, the challenges of mountain travel, the culture of the region, spiritual and philosophical thoughts, and the social dynamics of an expedition groups. However, I’d only suggest this book to someone who doesn’t mind thinking about different levels of spiritualism and religion. For the author, it’s as much a journey inward as it is an expedition through the mountains.

“Nine Mile Bridge: Three Years in the Maine Woods” by Helen Hamlin

First published in 1945, “Nine Mile Bridge,” is about Helen Hamlin’s experience as a young woman traveling into Maine’s North Woods to teach at a lumber camp, then live in a remote cabin with her game warden husband. The story takes place in the 1930s, but I can still relate to it today, thanks to Hamlin’s honest, clever and humorous way of writing. It’s a book I treasure because it brings me to a place that’s so familiar, yet so far away. It’s a glimpse into a way of life and a time that I think would be lost if it weren’t for writing like hers. And it’s a darn good story, complete with a little romance.

“State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett

A work of fiction that often feels like a true story, “State of Wonder” (2012) is a novel set in the Amazon Rainforest, where a team of scientists are working to uncover the medical mysteries of a tribe. It’s a story about exploration, the cost of knowledge, and the complexities of relationships, especially between students and their mentors or heroes. I read this book while traveling on a plane, and it kept my attention for hours. Nevertheless, it can be a bit slow, especially when the main character is stuck in a town, trying to find transportation into the jungle. But that tedium also made the story seem more real in my mind. Not every step of an adventure is exciting. 

“Encounters with the Archdruid” by John McPhee

Of the many books written by John McPhee that I love, “Encounters with the Archdruid” (1971) is special to me because it inspires me to write about conservation efforts in a more engaging and creative way. For this particular book, McPhee followed David Bower, an American conservationist, as he journeys into three distinct wilderness areas — on a coastal island, in a western mountain range and on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. During these adventures, he’s joined by a mineral engineer, a resort developer and a builder of dams. And by talking with these men, McPhee offers combatting perspectives and opinions about the wilderness he describes in such detail. If you’ve never read anything by McPhee, I suggest you check out his many titles and find a topic you’re interested in. He’s written about Russian art, basketball, merchant ships, the orange industry and much more. He has a knack for making just about any topic fascinating.

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed

A national bestseller in 2012, this book has gotten a lot of attention. It was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, and it was made into a feature film starring and directed by Hollywood star Reese Witherspoon. Some people I know avoid books like that like the plague. They don’t want to read what’s popular. But I think that if a book gets attention, there’s got to be a reason for it. So I picked up a copy, and I really enjoyed it. The book follows the footsteps of a young woman as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, a footpath that spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through three western states: California, Oregon and Washington. Having written a lot about the PCT’s older sister, the Appalachian Trail, I was interested to learn more about the PCT and its unique challenges. Lack of water sources, for example, is a reality on the PCT, as well as deep snows in the high mountains. And while learning about the PCT through the narrative, I also was drawn into Strayed’s personal story. Like I said, there’s a reason this book, of all the books on long-distance hiking, got national attention.

“The Maine Woods” by Henry David Thoreau

If you’re looking for a classic, “The Maine Woods” is a great read, full of insightful quotes and interesting descriptions of Maine in the mid 1800s. The book starts with Thoreau traveling from Concord, Massachusetts, to Bangor, Maine, in 1864, by train and steamboat, then continuing up the Penobscot River to visit Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain. I find some writing from that timeframe to be difficult to read, but not Thoreau’s writing. My copy of “The Maine Woods” has several underlined passages that I find especially eloquent or wise.

“No Limits but the Sky: The Best Mountaineering Stories from Appalachia Journal” edited by Christine Woodside

Published in 2014 by the Appalachian Mountain Club, “No Limits but the Sky” is a compilation of 25 essays from America’s oldest mountaineering and conservation journal, Appalachia. Published by AMC since 1876, Appalachia is a treasure trove of stories about mountain exploration, ecology and conservation. The essays in the book chronicle adventures in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, on a glacier in Colorado, in the Alaska wilderness in winter, on Kilimanjaro in Africa and in many other places around the world. Before each story is a brief description of the author and some contextual information, setting you up for the tale.

“Annapurna: A Woman’s Place” by Arlene Blum

An inspiring true story, “Annapurna: A Woman’s Place” was one of several books I read while studying at the University of Maine, and it encouraged me to embrace my love of mountains. The book is about a group of 13 women who in 1978 made history as the first Americans to scale Annapurna I in Nepal, the world’s tenth highest peak. The book is written by the expedition leader, Arlene Blum, who relates in honest details the challenges her team faced on the snowy, icy slopes of the mountain. It’s a story of triumph, as well as tragedy. But perhaps more importantly, the expedition changed perceptions about what women are capable of in the realm of outdoor exploration, mountain sports and beyond.

“A Naturalist at Large: The Best Essays of Bernd Heinrich”

Bernd Heinrich is one of my favorite naturalist writers, and I know I’m not alone. So I was thrilled in May of 2018 when “A Naturalist at Large,” a book of some of his finest essays, hit bookstores. Known for his bestselling books such as “Why We Run” and “The Homing Instinct,” Heinrich writes about the world around him. Trees, insects, birds, seasonal changes, he closely observes and writes about these things in a way that combines science with poetry. I’m also a big fan of his 1995 book “A Year in the Maine Woods,” which taught me a lot about the forest in which I walk so often.

Please feel free to share your own favorite “outdoorsy” books in the comment section below, title and author, so fellow readers (and I) can enjoy them, too. 

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.