My Favorite (Non-Fiction) Books About Living in the Wilderness
My fascination with remote wilderness living started around 2009.
By 2010, I was living in a log cabin on 30 acres which were landlocked within 300 acres belonging to a Zen monastery. Though we were not part of the monastery, their quiet acreage which was essentially a nature preserve, served as a really nice buffer. The driveway was 3 miles long and I considered myself to be living a very remote lifestyle there in northern Kentucky.
Now that I’ve traveled and spent a lot of time out in the vast West of America, living in places like northeast Washington state, and purchasing land in the Okanogan Highlands there, with 3 people per square mile… my idea of remote has changed drastically. Nowadays I would call that experience in northern Kentucky “rural” or “bucolic” but not necessarily remote.
But it was in 2010, living out in this bucolic and quiet log cabin in northern Kentucky, that I really started getting into reading about people who were eking out a life in the wilderness, further removed from societal influences, and I’ve been captivated by this topic ever since. It resonates deeply for me and is a big part of how I have decided to construct my own life.
Now, especially, as we live a “normal life” again in western Washington, books about wilderness living and homesteading in the wilderness are salves for my spirit.
So I decided to share a list here of the books I have really enjoyed in this genre, and hopefully some of you can offer me recommendations in the comments section at the bottom of this post. Got to keep the inspiration fires stoked, don’t we? :)
Non-Fiction Books About Life In The Wilderness:
I suppose it’s only right for me to begin this list with the book that was my initiation into wilderness lifestyles and the eremetic folks who live them. This is a truly fascinating read. Years after I read this book, a crew filmed Agafia at her home in the Siberian wilderness for the first time ever and I remember how completely captivated I was getting to see her not just as a story. She reads and writes an old nearly extinct Slavic language and didn’t know WW2 had happened. You can watch that here.
About the book: In the late 1970s, a Russian pilot flying over a remote, mountainous stretch of the Siberian taiga, the vast subarctic forest, spotted a tilled field hundreds of miles from any known settlement. He could not believe his eyes; in this forbidding part of the world, human habitation was a statistical impossibility. A team of scientists parachuted in and were stunned by what they found: a primitive wood cabin, and a family dressed in rags that spoke, thought, and lived in the manner of seventeenth-century Russian peasants during the reign of Tsar Peter the Great. How they come here, how they survived, and how they ultimately prevailed in a climate of unimaginable adversity make for one of the most extraordinary human adventures of this century.
In 1973, Norma Cobb, her husband Lester, and the their five children, the oldest of whom was nine-years-old and the youngest, twins, barely one, pulled up stakes in the Lower Forty-eight and headed north to Alaska to follow a pioneer dream of claiming land under the Homestead Act. The only land available lay north of Fairbanks near the Arctic Circle where grizzlies outnumbered humans twenty to one. In addition to fierce winters and predatory animals, the Alaskan frontier drew the more unsavory elements of society's fringes. From the beginning, the Cobbs found themselves pitted in a life or death feud with unscrupulous neighbors who would rob from new settlers, attempt to burn them out, shoot them, and jump their claim.
The Cobbs were chechakos, tenderfeet, in a lost land that consumed even toughened settlers. Everything, including their "civilized" past, conspired to defeat them. They constructed a cabin and the first snow collapsed the roof. They built too close to the creek and spring breakup threatened to flood them out. Bears prowled the nearby woods, stalking the children, and Lester Cobb would leave for months at a time in search of work.
But through it all, they survived on the strength of Norma Cobb---a woman whose love for her family knew no bounds and whose courage in the face of mortal danger is an inspiration to us all. Arctic Homestead is her story.
In her early thirties, Louise Dickinson Rich took to the woods of Maine with her husband.
They found their livelihood and raised a family in the remote backcountry settlement of Middle Dam, in the Rangeley area.
Rich made time after morning chores to write about their lives.
We Took to the Woods is an adventure story, written with humor, but it also portrays a cherished dream awakened into full life.
In the 1860s, the Russo-American Telegraph Company set out to telegraphically connect the United States and Europe using lines running through the Bering Straits and Siberia. The failed expedition marked one of the first explorations of the vast Siberian wilderness, and George Kennan’s tale of a seemingly endless land filled with wildlife and nomadic tribes is as entertaining today as it was 140 years ago.
With biting humor and poignant insight, Kennan details his years fighting to survive a doomed mission.
He depicts the quiet loneliness of the desolate landscape, the eerie glow of the sun at midnight, and the refusal to give in to one of the harshest places man has ever tried to conquer.
His book is a testament to our planet’s beauty and danger, as well as to the tireless will of the human spirit.
The Journals of Lewis & Clark are well-known classic reads, but those are selections of their journal entries. Not the full story.
Gary Moulton has compiled all complete journals in this unabridged version and I very much recommend it!
All of their triumphs and terrors are here: the thrill of seeing the vast herds of bison, the fear the captains felt when Sacagawea fell ill, the ordeal of crossing the Continental Divide. The natural wonders of an unspoiled America are here, and the lives and customs of its native peoples also vividly come to life, making for a living drama that is humorous, poignant and, at least once, tragic. Editor Gary E. Moulton blends the narrative highlights of his definitive Nebraska edition of the Lewis and Clark journals to bring forth the voices of the enlisted men and of the Native Americans, heard for the first time alongside the words of the captains.
Ecologist Anne LaBastille created the life that many people dream about. When she and her husband divorced, she needed a place to live. Through luck and perseverance, she found the ideal spot: a 20-acre parcel of land in the Adirondack mountains, where she built the cozy, primitive log cabin that became her permanent home.
Miles from the nearest town, LaBastille had to depend on her wits, ingenuity, and the help of generous neighbors for her survival.
In precise, poetic language, she chronicles her adventures on Black Bear Lake, capturing the power of the landscape, the rhythms of the changing seasons, and the beauty of nature’s many creatures.
Most of all, she captures the struggle to balance her need for companionship and love with her desire for independence and solitude.
If you’re reading this article, you’re likely familiar with Dick Proenneke. If not, then oh boy, get ready for some inspiration! You’ll want to watch Alone in the Wilderness ASAP which I link to over on this post), and next you can read his journals which have a way of bringing you right into that woodsmoke-scented cabin atmosphere, with the big Alaskan wilderness right outside, and not another [human] soul around. Dick Proenneke was the real deal.
About the book: To live in a pristine land unchanged by man... to roam a wilderness through which few other humans have passed... to choose an idyllic site, cut trees and build a log cabin... to be a self-sufficient craftsman, making what is needed from materials available... to be not at odds with the world but content with one's own thoughts and company.
Thousands have had such dreams, but Richard Proenneke lived them. He found a place, built a cabin, and stayed to become part of the country. One Man's Wilderness is a simple account of the day-to-day explorations and activities he carried out alone, and the constant chain of nature's events that kept him company.
Nikki van Schyndel is not your typical grizzled survivalist. She is a contemporary, urban young woman who threw off modern comforts to spend nineteen months in a remote rainforest with her housecat and a virtual stranger.
Set in the Broughton Archipelagoa maze of isolated islands near northern Vancouver Island, Becoming Wild is a story of survival in the pristine wilderness of BC.
Sometimes predator and sometimes prey, 29 year-old Nikki and her companion Micah fend off the harsh weather, hungry wildlife, threat of starvation and the endless perils of this rugged Raincoast.
To survive, Nikki must rely on her knowledge of BCs coastal flora and fauna, and the ancient techniques of hunting and gathering. In this remote world she learns to skin bears, make clothes from cedar bark and take great joy in gobbling a fish tail whole.
Told in a voice that is both familiar and vulnerable, Becoming Wild explores our innate longings to connect with nature and revert to a pure, Eden-like state.
Hundreds of hardy people have tried to carve a living in the Alaskan bush, but few have succeeded as consistently as Heimo Korth. Originally from Wisconsin, Heimo traveled to the Arctic wilderness in his feverous twenties. Now, more than three decades later, Heimo lives with his wife and two daughters approximately 200 miles from civilization—a sustainable, nomadic life bounded by the migrating caribou, the dangers of swollen rivers, and by the very exigencies of daily existence.
In The Final Frontiersman, Heimo’s cousin James Campbell chronicles the Korth family’s amazing experience, their adventures, and the tragedy that continues to shape their lives. With a deft voice and in spectacular, at times unimaginable detail, Campbell invites us into Heimo’s heartland and home. The Korths wait patiently for a small plane to deliver their provisions, listen to distant chatter on the radio, and go sledding at 44° below zero—all the while cultivating the hard-learned survival skills that stand between them and a terrible fate.
Awe-inspiring and memorable, The Final Frontiersman reads like a rustic version of the American Dream and reveals for the first time a life undreamed by most of us: amid encroaching environmental pressures, apart from the herd, and alone in a stunning wilderness that for now, at least, remains the final frontier.
My husband and I are working to build a Nordic-inspired homestead in the Washington wilderness slowly with cash and no debt. You can follow the journey here!
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