With the changing of environmental policies, national monuments shrinking and under review, and threats of federal lands being sold for oil drilling and logging, it is more important than ever in these chaotic and ever-changing times that we do everything we can to protect our environment and our national parks.
As avid nature lovers and devoted parks fans, the best we can do individually is take action. Sign petitions. Vote for candidates who are pro-nature. Recycle. Frequent and donate to our national parks. Participate in environmental protection programs and clean-up projects.
But, at times it feels overwhelming. No matter how much we do as just one person to help, it doesn’t seem like it’s enough. That is why it is important to foster a love of the environment and the national parks in others around us, for the greater good of preserving our natural treasures.
One of the best ways to do this is through education. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” By educating yourself and others, you breed understanding. And with this understanding comes empathy.
In a world where individual interests constantly clash with the interests that benefit the group as a whole, having an emotional connection makes this political cause personal. Through reading, we learn to better appreciate our lands and their beauty and importance. Through education, we can change others from casual park lovers into warriors for Earth’s wonders.
Here are 10 nature must-reads that would inspire anyone to go out and hug a tree:
1. The Yosemite – John Muir
If you are a naturalist and an environmental champion, John Muir is probably one of your favorite human beings. John Muir and his wanderings and observations were an integral part in the creation of Yosemite National Park. Muir will impress you with his encyclopedic knowledge of the geology and plant and animal species of the region, the wisdom he gathered from 10 years worth of adventuring. His writing turns mere words into art and he captures the indescribable majesty of Yosemite as clearly as if you were there yourself.
2. A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
One cannot talk about hiking travels and science without referencing Bill Bryson. Let Bill, with his fun and casual writing style, become your friend and companion as he guides you through the history and ecology of the Appalachian Trail.
3. The Wilderness Warrior: Teddy Roosevelt and the Crusade for America – Douglas Brinkley
We cannot discuss national parks without lauding one of their greatest patriarchs, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was many things: a soldier, a Rough Rider, an author, an explorer, and a President of the United States, but perhaps one of his greatest achievements was leading the crusade for the creation of our national park system. Wilderness Warrior is a vivid account of a fascinating and unique individual who left behind a legacy of conservation.
4. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail – Ben Montgomery
With an extra pair of clothes, Keds shoes on her feet, and less than two-hundred dollars in her pocket, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail and later the first person to hike it two and three times. Her harrowing story of perseverance and determination is what many believe brought attention to the trail, leading to its preservation and saving it from extinction.
5. John Muir: His Life and Letters and Other Writings – John Muir
John Muir is such a hero in the landscape of American nature preservation and environmental philosophy that it would be imprudent to only acknowledge him once on this list. This book is a combination of his unfinished autobiography and personal correspondence that gives insight into his life and legacy. The passion with which he fights for the wilderness can bring tears of your eyes and his prose is so beautifully constructed and quotable it is no wonder he convinced so many to join him in preserving our natural treasures.
6. Walking – Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau is probably best known for his masterpiece, Walden. He was a trailblazer of his time being one of the first Americans to start a dialogue about the value of nature. His essay, Walking, explores the transcendental qualities and spiritual healing one gains from a walk with nature. His ideas influenced the creation of Yellowstone National Park, our nation’s first national park.
7. The Collected Poems, 1957 – 1982 – Wendell Berry
If poetry is more your thing, this Appalachian transplant and farmer turned poet is simple, humble, and unpretentious. Written from a place of love for the environment, agriculture, and conservation, Wendell Berry tackles the circle of life and the peace and simplicity of nature through his prose in a meaningful and philosophical way.
8. The Journals of Lewis and Clark – Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
In order to truly appreciate something, you must first know its history and origin. The logs kept by Lewis and Clark on their expedition out west showcase wild and uncharted land before it even became part of United States territory, much less our national parks. Their writings also describe their encounters with wildlife and their interactions with Native Americans, the first peoples of the United States.
9. National Parks: America’s Best Idea – Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan
This coffee table book is a beautiful and comprehensive guide to the history of our national parks. Packed with stunning photography and interesting facts, it is a phenomenal companion to Ken Burn’s 12-hour PBS documentary of the same name.
10. Bear in the Backseat: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Kim DeLozier and Carolyn Jourdan
This read is a fantastic account of the life of a park ranger in the heart of The Great Smoky Mountains. These conversational-style tales take you on a journey from run-ins with black bears to relocating skunks to re-introducing animal species to different areas of the region.