Three Books That Inspire Appreciation for Nature

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You don’t have to read George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature to gain a literary appreciation for nature. Inspiration can be found in some surprising — and some not-so-surprising — places.

The following books offer a compelling look at the natural world and insights into our connection to and responsibility for conserving it.

To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck

Largely considered to be the most difficult of all Steinbeck’s novels to write, To a God Unknown tells the story of Joseph Wayne and his family as he strives to fulfill his deceased father’s dream of growing a thriving farm in the hills of California. As the farm prospers, Joseph attributes its success to a large oak tree on the property that he believes contains the spirit of his deceased father. But, frightened by Joseph’s pagan beliefs and rituals involving the tree, his brother kills it, causing the farm to languish.

This symbolic tale of one man’s attempt to control nature beautifully captures our utter inability to do so and illustrates the power of the natural world and the awe it inspires.

  I should have known,” he whispered. “I am the rain.” And yet he looked dully down the mountains of his body where the hills fell to an abyss. He felt the driving rain, and heard it whipping down, pattering on the ground. He saw his hills grow dark with moisture. Then a lancing pain shot through the heart of the world. “I am the land,” he said, “and I am the rain. The grass will grow out of me in a little while.”
Walden by Henry David Thoreau

A social experiment of sorts, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is a testament to self-reliance and minimalism. For two years, Thoreau lived by himself in the woods surrounding Walden Pond outside of Concord, Mass., in a cabin that he built. There, he reflected on the natural world and all it has to offer as well as on how little is necessary for humans to prosper.

Thoreau’s reflections demonstrate the importance of our oneness with nature and how connecting with it can lead to spiritual awakening. Through his prose, he captures both the simplicity of the natural world and its ability to calm and renew us and our thirst to explore it.

  Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness — to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. … We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.


The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan

This collection of lectures focused on natural theology and the concept of “informed worship” reveals astronomer, astrophysicist and Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sagan’s thoughts on the relationship between religion and science. Given as a series of talks at the University of Glasgow in 1985 and published posthumously in 2006, The Varieties of Scientific Experience emphasizes the vastness of the universe, our desire to believe in a higher power and the divisions created by religion as well as their implications for the world.

Sagan paints a compelling — and accurate — picture of the universe as much larger than any one person or problem. By demonstrating its immenseness, he emphasizes our insignificance and the urgency of coming together to preserve our planet.

  When you look at the earth from space, it is striking. There are no national boundaries visible. They have been put there, like the equator and the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, by humans. The planet is real. The life on it is real, and the political separations that have placed the planet in danger are of human manufacture. They have not been handed down from Mount Sinai. All the beings on this little world are mutually dependent. It’s like living in a lifeboat. We breathe the air that Russians have breathed, and Zambians and Tasmanians and people all over the planet. Whatever the causes that divide us … it is clear that the Earth will be here a thousand or a million years from now. The question, the key question, the central question — in a certain sense the only question — is, will we?
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Alexandra Vollman
Alexandra Vollman is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for the outdoors — especially hiking. As the co-founder and editor of Modern Conservationist, she oversees editorial management for the site. She has a bachelor’s degree in media communications and a master’s degree in writing and publishing. Alexandra enjoys using her knack for reporting and storytelling to instill in others a better understanding of and appreciation for nature.

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