The best books on spirituality and wilderness

Belden C. Lane Author Of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality
By Belden C. Lane

Who am I?

Belden Lane is a wilderness backpacker and storyteller who has written extensively on the connections between human spiritual experience and the power of place. As Professor Emeritus of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University he taught theology and spirituality for thirty-five years with the Jesuits. Drawing on backpacking trips in the canyonlands of Utah, the Wind River Range of Wyoming, and the Australian outback, his books include Landscapes of the Sacred, Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, and The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul

I wrote...

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality

By Belden C. Lane,

Book cover of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality

What is my book about?

The book explores the impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference. It interweaves a memoir of the author’s mother’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s and cancer, meditations on his own wilderness experience, and illuminating commentary on mystical traditions that seek God in the silence beyond language. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature

Why did I love this book?

The last book of a highly-respected psychiatrist and theologian, written as he was dying of cancer. It describes his solo camping trips into the Appalachian Mountains, where he found healing in what he called “the Power of the Slowing”. This spiritual practice taught him to welcome whatever the moment offered. When a growling bear brushes the fabric of his tent in the middle of the night, there’s nothing he can do to protect himself. But he can choose in that instant to enter the “slowing”, going into the quiet acceptance of his own terror. He can be present—“in a place beyond all coping”—to the immediacy of being alive, within the very fear that grips him.

By Gerald G. May,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wisdom of Wilderness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tap into the Awe-Inspiring Power of Nature

Book cover of The Practice of the Wild: Essays

Why did I love this book?

A Buddhist activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning beat generation poet, Snyder celebrates “wildness” as a moral principle. It gives value to the living world and invites us to the wild places within, the inner wilderness that carries us beyond the comforting assurances of the mind. He cautions against looking for metaphorical and spiritual meanings “beyond and through” the natural world. This risks our not “seeing what is before our very eyes: plain thusness” … which in itself is more than enough to astound!

By Gary Snyder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Practice of the Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"This is an important book for anyone interested in the ethical interrelationships of things, places, and people, and it is a book that is not just read but taken in." ―Library Journal

Featuring a new introduction by Robert Hass, the nine captivatingly meditative essays in The Practice of the Wild display the deep understanding and wide erudition of Gary Snyder in the ways of Buddhist belief, wildness, wildlife, and the world. These essays, first published in 1990, stand as the mature centerpiece of Snyder’s work and thought, and this profound collection is widely accepted as one of the central texts…

Book cover of The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

Why did I love this book?

Abram is a cultural ecologist and sleight-of-hand magician who always surprises. In this book, he describes a way of reading (and interacting) with the landscape that draws on indigenous traditions, the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, and a deeply embodied perception of the natural world. Our human language, he affirms, is itself rooted in the sounds of falling water, birdsong, and wind rushing through the branches of larch trees. 

By David Abram,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Spell of the Sensuous as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the International Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction

Animal tracks, word magic, the speech of stones, the power of letters, and the taste of the wind all figure prominently in this intellectual tour de force that returns us to our senses and to the sensuous terrain that sustains us. This major work of ecological philosophy startles the senses out of habitual ways of perception.

For a thousand generations, human beings viewed themselves as part of the wider community of nature, and they carried on active relationships not only with other people with other animals, plants, and natural objects (including…

Book cover of Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche

Why did I love this book?

A depth psychologist and wilderness guide, Plotkin is director of the Animas Valley Institute in Durango, CO. Building on the work of Joseph Campbell and others, he proposes various exercises, rituals, and disciplines to use in nature wandering as a soulful practice. These include dream-work and drumming, vision quests, and cross-species dialogue. His later book, Nature and the Human Soul (2007), offers a nature-based pattern for understanding stages of human development.

By Bill Plotkin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soulcraft as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since 1980, depth psychologist Bill Plotkin has been guiding women and men into the wilderness—the redrock canyons and snow-crested mountains of the American West—but also into the wilds of the soul. He calls this work soulcraft.

There’s a great longing in all people to uncover the secrets and mysteries of our individual lives, to find the unique gift we were born to bring to our communities, and to experience our full membership in the more-than-human world. This journey to soul is a descent into layers of the self much deeper than personality, a journey meant for each one of us,…

Desert Solitaire

By Edward Abbey,

Book cover of Desert Solitaire

Why did I love this book?

You either love or hate Ed Abbey. His fierce love of wilderness made him a passionate, angry man. A former park ranger become an environmental activist and monkey-wrencher, he won the Pulitzer Prize for this collection of essays. The chapter on floating the Glen Canyon before the dam was completed is worth the price of the book. He points up the need for cutting through sappy and romantic thinking about wilderness. Wild places teach us resistance and irreverence in the face of mindless commercialism.

By Edward Abbey,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Desert Solitaire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'My favourite book about the wilderness' Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

In this shimmering masterpiece of American nature writing, Edward Abbey ventures alone into the canyonlands of Moab, Utah, to work as a seasonal ranger for the United States National Park Service.

Living out of a trailer, Abbey captures in rapt, poetic prose the landscape of the desert; a world of terracotta earth, empty skies, arching rock formations, cliffrose, juniper, pinyon pine and sand sage. His summers become spirit quests, taking him in search of wild horses and Ancient Puebloan petroglyphs, up mountains and across tribal lands, and down the…

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