5 Life-Stirring Books to Connect You With the Wild World

book reviews nature wake up Feb 28, 2020

A soft longing is emerging, like a creature in hibernation, from our hearts.

We are hungry to return ourselves to the living world, to feel ourselves belonging to and in allegiance with its inherent harmony. A slow, long wail is resonating from our chests, as we are feeling into our loneliness as a species, our soulless ways of living, and the loss and damage of all that has already been done. 

Breaking out of the numbness, grief, and quiet resignation that can take hold, we start to look around and wonder what more can be done. We might ask what we can do on a small, everyday basis to create a more regenerative culture?

It is hard to know where to start if we have grown up within a system that has no stories, no dreams, no rituals, no daily practices that directly connect us with the living world. Still, we sense that something needs to shift, that an arising of the ecological self wants to come forward.

Gratefully, there are many humans on this planet who are speaking up and taking action. Their writings and teachings leave footprints for us to walk in. The success of books such as Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram speak to our craving to understand more about the mysteries of the “more-than-human world.” And, of course, indigenous cultures around the world have been teaching, living, and practicing within a sense of respect for this interbeingness since the beginning of time.

Here are five stirring books (that you may not already know) to get you thinking differently about your place on this earth.

For the mirror is being held higher now—our difficulty in caring for ourselves is directly reflected in our inability to care for our planet home.


Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness by Mary Reynolds Thompson

Mapping a journey through five archetypal landscapes—deserts, forests, oceans/rivers, mountains, and grasslands—Reynolds Thompson’s writing explores the meeting place between our wild selves and the wild earth. In the depths of these “soulscapes,” we find the convergence of both our outer and inner natures where an ancient earth-consciousness resides.

Reynolds Thompson presents us with the questions, “What if the process of rewilding the earth began with rewilding ourselves? What if healing the world really does start from within?” 

Through this model, we move from an egocentric worldview to more of an ecocentric wisdom based on wholeness, belonging, and feeling into our instinctual selves. 

With gentle writings and a poetic finesse, Reynolds Thompson carries her readers into the heart center of each of these landscapes, brightening our senses and making us come alive in the process. I love the voice she gives to each landscape: the desert schools us in silence and simplicity, the forest is a land that reveals our mystery, the waters of the world are life-giving and teach us flow, the mountains embolden and inspire us, while the grasslands show us their regenerative spirit. Diving into the marrow of each of these inner/outer places, we find a primal terrain that is rich in wisdom and healing.

A woven tapestry of personal stories, introspective questioning, and writing explorations, this book returns us to our intrinsic human wilderness.

Sisters of the Earth: Women’s Prose and Poetry About Nature, Edited by Lorraine Anderson

A compilation of over a hundred of the greatest women nature writers of our time, Sisters of the Earth sings in all of the many voices that only women can. This collection speaks to nature as healer, nature as sensual delight, nature as mother and sister, nature as victim, nature as a reminder of all that is wild. This rich array of writing spans centuries, genres, and varied worldviews, expressing all of the many ways that we can feel part of the holy continuance.

Featuring some of my favorite poets and nature writers such as Joy Harjo, Diane Ackerman, Marge Piercy, Linda Hogan, and Ursula Le Guin, this entire volume celebrates the sacred feminine, revering the earth as our life-giving mother. With an attitude of respect and gratitude, these writings move us into “a more attentive relationship with nature as it moves through our bodies, as it moves through the land and the weather and the seasons and the creatures. At the same time, it reminds us of this essential truth: relating to the natural world from the heart as much as from the mind is what’s required of our species if we’re to slow or stop our accelerating dash to destruction.”

Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali

As technology is increasingly the dominant force in our lives and devices dramatically alter how we interact with each other, more and more, we are feeling alienated from the nourishing forces of the living earth. We evolved as human beings to have intimate contact with the land, the cycles, and the elements, but somehow this has all been overridden by the constructs of our modern lifestyles.

Rewilding calls us from the dull monotony of our indoor lives out into the invigorating, sensorially awake outside world. Mortali describes the concept of rewilding as a “return to our essential nature. It is an attempt to reclaim something of what we were before we used words like ‘civilized’ to define ourselves.” 

One part celebration of the natural world, one part spiritual memoir, and one part how-to guide, I enjoyed the practice rich content in this book—such as the guided meditations, mindfulness exercises, and forest bathing instructions. Mortali also gives real-life advice for spending time outdoors, such as tracking, foraging, building fires, safety, and being prepared.

This is a great read for anyone who is wanting guidance in getting outdoors and deepening their relationship with the living earth.

Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche by Bill Plotkin

Bill Plotkin is a depth psychologist, ecotherapist, and wilderness guide who in Soulcraft offers his readers an experiential guide to the wilderness of their souls. If you are uncomfortable with the word “soul” then this is not the book for you. But if you are interested in the bloody viscera of life, willing to explore for your own dark terrain and that of the earth, longing to discover the mysteries of your individual life, then this book will deeply resonate with you. Soulcraft explores the yearnings that pull us toward the heart of the world—“down into wild nature and into the dark earth of our deepest desires.” 

Plotkin’s work is based on the fundamental idea that the “most effective paths to soul are nature-based.” When we openly, willingly immerse ourselves in the living world and escape the barriers set up by our culture, we find that “nature and soul not only depend on each other but long for each and are, in the end, the same substance, like twins or trees sharing the same roots.” 

The pull toward soul is not for the faint of heart and sometimes arrives like an earthquake in our lives, asking us to leave behind everything we thought our lives were supposed to be. It can begin as a journey of descent into an underworld of undoing, unraveling our cultural tethers, shifting us out of our societal conditioning into an unknown zone. This book will particularly appeal to people who are in some kind of life transition, period of questioning, or deep soul initiation. Ultimately Plotkin offers a soul-centric revival toward a fierce engagement with all of life, finally “living as if your place in the world matters.”

Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram

A follow-up to his well-received first book, Becoming Animal is lush with Abram’s gorgeously thick prose. In it, he asks us to feel into our two-legged animal selves, our earthly selves, our fully human selves. Becoming a part of the swelling, animate world, we learn to speak and listen to all of life in an entirely different way. Through the trembling beauty of his words, Abram rouses his readers out of their modern anesthetization, reviving their keen animal senses. 

Waking up to this natural world that we belong to, we also wake up to our grief. Abram describes that “grief is but a gate, and our tears a kind of key opening a place of wonder that’s been locked away. Suddenly, we notice the sustaining resonance between the drumming heart within our chest and the pulse rising from under the ground.” Even our grief acts as a form of connection.

Abram’s bright imagination and adventurous storytelling will keep you wondering and wanting more. This book sends you out into the world having turned on a whole new way seeing your intimate entanglement with the breathing, vibrating earth.

This is by no means a complete list—please share in the comments your favorite reads for waking up to the wild world.


Published on Elephant Journal on 2/28/20