Mariton: My Desert Island Books

April 5, 2020

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

If you have a lot of time on your hands, here is my list of books to read.

But first, there are still a lot of things to do outdoors and I encourage you to spend a lot of time outside if possible.  Long before science documented it, many of us were well aware that nature healed mind, body and spirit.  Right now, I see a lot of people walking and that is great.  Walking outside is my go-to for clearing my mind, but I encourage you also to literally reconnect with nature.  Lay on the ground.  Watch the trees sway overhead in the wind.  Watch clouds change shapes and roll on by.  Watch the stars from your backyard.  Sit beside a creek just to listen to the water, and watch the shapes of light changing.  In the modern lifestyle of constant movement and instant gratification, slowing down is difficult, and stopping is darn near impossible.  So, you may have to take baby steps, but it will be worth it.

Unlike a lot of people, I have a list of books that I re-read about every 5 – 10  years.  I call these my “compass books”, because I use them to reset my bearings.  These are books that I would want on a desert island.  My first book, oddly enough, is Homer’s OdysseyI’ve lost count how many times I’ve read this, but Richmond Lattimore’s translation has become my favorite (the translation can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of this book).  Here is a story of a man taking one step forward and ten steps back, but still persevering.  A book for this present time.  If you slogged through this book for school don’t be put off by that experience.  The Odyssey is timeless, expertly crafted literature (which means it is worth slowing down to really read).  This is a great time to pull one of your favorites off the bookshelf and re-read it.  No offense to modern writers, but there are a lot of great reads that have been rightly passed down through the ages.

I read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden for the first time when I was 13.  That was probably the most influential book in steering my life.  Since then, I’ve read it at least a dozen times and it still inspires me.  From Walden, I stepped up to Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac.  This appealed a little more to the land manager side of my brain.  But if I had to take just one book of this genre, it would now be Sigurd Olson’s The Singing Wilderness.   I only discovered Olson a few years ago and I’ve already re-read this book a couple of times.  This is really excellent outdoor writing that transports me to the sounds, smells, sights and feel of being in the north woods.

Finally, if you are having a tough time with restrictions and empty store shelves, I recommend Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage.  We all need a little undaunted courage these days.  Reading about what Lewis and Clark voluntarily submitted themselves to is a great reminder of our American spirit.  They didn’t turn back.  That American spirit is in our DNA, because our ancestors all left the familiar and ventured to a new world.  Everyone agrees we have been transported to an unfamiliar world over the last month, and going forward our spirit will serve us well.