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With spring in the air, my feet itch to hit the Iowa dirt and take in the sight of green, new growth outdoors. While I consider myself a dedicated weekend wanderer, I also relish many hours on my couch reading about the more daring and knowledgeable outdoor exploits of others.
Raynor Winn and her husband are two such adventurers. Her book, The Salt Path, describes how the couple impulsively decides to walk England’s 630-mile South West Coast Path after they lose their home and business and her husband receives a terminal diagnosis. While tackling the trek, Winn connects with the moody, wild landscape of England’s seacoast as she and her partner persevere in the face of disability, financial insolvency and bad weather.
Former elite distance runner Lauren Fleshman has her own story of perseverance. In her book Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World, she describes overcoming challenges in the professional track and field world. Fleshman skillfully conveys mind-blowing research about women’s physiology and how it leads to a completely different athletic performance trajectory than the currently celebrated model.
The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham, a wildlife ecologist and avid birder, creates a strong sense of place with gorgeous and richly detailed descriptions of the rural South Carolina environment of the author’s youth. Lanham examines how a history of enslavement and modern race relations has impacted Black Americans’ relationship to the natural world.
Potawatomi scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants similarly melds science, history, personal experience and poetic storytelling. And if harrowing escapades are your thing, try End of the Rope: Mountains, Marriage, and Motherhood, a memoir by rock climber Jan Redford, who escapes a dysfunctional family by finding support in the local climbing community. Near-death experiences are plentiful — spending all night dangling by a rope off the face of El Capitan while awaiting a rescue is a memorable one — as well as Redford’s struggles with a failing marriage and balancing parenting and her rock-climbing passion.
No matter how you choose to experience the outdoors this season, these memoirs will propel your growth through varied perspectives on nature. Lace up your sneakers and go outside!
Anne Wilmoth is a children’s and collection services librarian at Iowa City Public Library. Her favorite local hiking trail is at F.W. Kent County Park. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 318.