For many of us, the winter months bring snow, cold, and weather we don’t like to be out in. But even if we are not spending as much time outdoors, we can still work on our relationship with nature and with the rest of the more-than-human world. And because the long winter nights are also an excellent time to catch up on our reading, one way to do this is through reading books that encourage us to approach the natural world with more openness and respect. Here is a short list of five such titles:
1) The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram
In this well-written and well-researched book, Abram discusses the deep relationship that all humans once had with the more-than-human world, and how this relationship has changed and been largely forgotten with the development of a written language. He argues that it is our relationships with non-human beings that make us fully human, something we lose as we form relationships more with only our human technologies. This is not an easy read, but it will – as it did for me – transform your thinking about how humans connect with nature. Abram’s second book, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology is also an excellent read. It has a broader focus and may be an easier read for some.
2) Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World by Bill Plotkin
A good companion read to The Spell of the Sensuous, Nature and the Human Soul shows how full human development is a product of both human culture and more-than-human nature. Plotkin also argues that, because western civilization largely ignores the nature component, many people are still in a state of psychological adolescence, which leads to our society as a whole becoming human-centric rather than eco-centric. Again, this is not an easy read, but it really helped me to see and understand many of the problems with our society in a wider context. And that’s important, because if we want to make changes, we first need to know what has gone wrong.
3) A good field guide
While it’s important to understand the theories, ultimately it is the living, breathing world around us that we need to live in and interact with. Even if you have no interest in identifying every species you come across, a good field guide can help you to better understand and appreciate the non-human beings in your environment. I have written before about how a field guide to butterflies helped me to discover their diversity and to become a better observer. If you have little experience with field guides, first choose a group of beings that you are interested in learning more about and can expect to observe relatively often. Examples include birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, a specific group of insects, marine invertebrates, plants, a specific group of plants (such as trees, wildflowers, or mosses), lichens, or mushrooms and other fungi. You can even choose non-living beings such as rocks and minerals, clouds and weather patterns, or stars and planets. Look for a field guide that is specific to your region rather than covering an entire continent, and that has large, clear illustrations. Use your field guide to learn more about the animals, plants, and other beings you encounter, and to become more aware of what is out there. When you know what to look for, you will likely see more as well.
4) Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth
A nature journal is an excellent way to observe, reflect, and chronicle your development. Keeping a Nature Journal describes nature journalling in a way that is accessible to anyone, even those who think they can’t draw or write. As someone who long believed that she couldn’t draw and then discovered that she could, I have found that the key lies not in the ability to draw, but rather in the ability to see. I also highly recommend Hannah Hinchman’s book, A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place.
5) Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a classic chronicle of one woman’s relationship with the nature in her local environment. It is also beautifully written and of course deeply personal, embracing all aspects of nature equally, from the inspiring to the uncomfortable to the repulsive. Books like this remind me that, no matter how odd I may seem to those who meet me, I am not alone. Other books I would recommend here include Walden by Henry David Thoreau and a couple of the books I have previously reviewed, Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.
Are you planning to read any of these (or similar) books this winter? What books have shifted your relationship with the more-than-human world? What books you would add to my list?