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. 

The books I picked & why

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The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature

By Gerald G. May,

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

Why 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.


The Practice of the Wild: Essays

By Gary Snyder,

Book cover of The Practice of the Wild: Essays

Why 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!


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

By David Abram,

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

Why 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. 


Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche

By Bill Plotkin,

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

Why 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.


Desert Solitaire

By Edward Abbey,

Book cover of Desert Solitaire

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in spirituality, park rangers, and self-actualization?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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