Get ready to hug some trees or at least appreciate trees from afar, because April 24 is Arbor Day — an entire holiday devoted to the things with leaves. It all started back in 1872 in Nebraska, and here we are, more than a century later, carrying on the tradition.
Maybe you’ve never celebrated or heard of Arbor Day, but it’s a much sunnier holiday than National Doughnut Day (although doughnuts deserve their moment in the sun too, I guess). “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” said naturalist John Muir. And Anne Lamott once wrote, “I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.” How many poems have been written about trees, or written underneath a tree for that matter? They’re inspiring, beautiful, and necessary. So if you’ve never honored Arbor Day, now is probably a good time to start.
If standing and silently worshipping a tree isn’t your thing, you can “go back to nature” via a book or two or ten. Read a story about someone’s solo trek through the wilderness, or a book about a woman who leaves her hectic city life to live on a farm and “eat local.” That’s a pretty good way to celebrate Arbor Day — and you can always plant a tree or two if you really want to get into it.
In honor of Arbor Day, here are 12 books about going back to nature that might just inspire your own wilderness trek.
Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer by Antonia Murphy
Murphy writes about her first year as an artisan farmer in New Zealand, as she finds out that the romantic notion of “going back to nature” isn’t always so romantic. The book is funny, relatable, and charming. If you’ve been thinking of leaving the big city to raise chickens and milk cows, you might want to read this first.
Bryson returned to the U.S. after two decades in England and set out to reconnect with his homeland by hiking the 2,100-foot Appalachian Trail. There are history and nature facts, but Bryson’s writing style and observations are often hilarious, so this reads more like a funny road trip tale than a nature tome. The movie version with Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman, and Last Man on Earth’s Kristen Schaal is coming out this fall.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
Like Dirty Chick, this one chronicles a woman’s experience going back to the land with her family, but Kingsolver doesn’t hightail it to New Zealand — they just start composting and farming at home. It might inspire you to eat local and put away the microwave.
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson
In the late 1970s, Davidson set off across the unforgiving landscape of the Australian Outback with some camels and a dog. It’s Cheryl Strayed’s Wild with caftans and bellbottoms. Check it out if you’re contemplating a solo trek of your own.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
This classic is about a girl named Karana who lives alone for years on an island surrounded by dolphins. She’s a castaway, she forages for food, and she fights for her life. Sounds a little like Katniss, minus the love triangle and that evil, annoying President Snow.
In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall
Famous primatologist/conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall writes about life with the wild chimpanzees of Gombe, and it’s a fascinating look at animal behavior, life off the grid, and one woman’s passion and resilience. It’s also a great book about self-discovery, which is what going back to nature is all about.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Anne Dillard
Like Bryson and Davidson, Dillard sets off on foot to explore the area of Virginia around Tinker Creek, and the result is a Pulitzer-winning book. It’s a yearlong journey full of epiphanies and insights about beauty, nature, and the meaning of life. It’s beautifully written and inspiring — the kind of book you can reread when you’re in need of a little spiritual healing.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Probably the most popular of the “I went walking alone to figure my life out” books on this list, and for good reason. Like Dillard’s book, Wild can be reread over the years and you’ll pick up something different each time you open it up. And the movie was great, too.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The granddaddy of going back to nature books, Walden is read by every high school student from Maine to California, and we all know that Thoreau went into the woods to “live deliberately.” If it has been a few years since you’ve read it, it’s worth picking up again. Wild, Tracks, and A Walk in the Woods are all direct descendents of his long-ago quest.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
If you’re in the mood for more of a swashbuckling adventure tale, dive into Defoe’s classic story of a shipwrecked dude trying to survive on a remote tropical island. Read it right after you finish Island of the Blue Dolphins if you want a double-dose of castaway narratives.
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
This one is a series of vignettes about Abbey’s life in the southwestern U.S. wilderness. It’s poetic, sometimes funny, and always entertaining, and his experiences as a park ranger gave him an appreciation for nature that’s contagious.
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball
Kimball left her single life in Manhattan to move to a farm with a man she was falling in love with, and the result is a book about food, relationships, cooking, and nature — part memoir, part inspirational how-to. It all started when Kimball got an assignment to interview the farmer, which turned into a (sort of) date, and then into a life-changing experience. Reading it might inspire you to leave the big bad city life behind.