It's early March — not yet mud season, no longer winter. Outside, not a green thing in sight. You could flee to Florida, I guess. Or you could read these books, all of which will put you in the out-of-doors in very different ways.
"Wanderlust: An Eccentric Explorer, an Epic Journey, a Lost Age" by Reid Mitenbuler (Mariner Books, 495 pages, $45) opens with breathtaking drama, as Danish explorer Peter Freuchen is trapped in a snow cave in the Arctic during a blizzard in 1923. Freuchen is sealed under mountains of snow inside a space the size of a coffin. He can feel frostbite creeping up his foot. He knows he's going to die.
How can you not keep reading? Freuchen was an imposing man, 6 feet 7 inches tall, fearless, intelligent and enlightened. He first visited Greenland in 1906 and spent decades in and out of that country, exploring by dogsled, mapping the terrain, running a trading post, learning the language and culture of the Inuit people. He married an Inuit woman and they reared two children. (It's complicated.)
He cheated death innumerable times (escaping from that snow cave in a way you will never guess), watched with concern as the Inuits became more westernized and the Arctic climate began to change.
He fought in the resistance against the Nazis, moved to Hollywood and became a screenwriter. After his wife died, he married twice more. His life was about as full as a life could possibly be.
Mitenbuler's prose strikes just the right tone, easygoing but thrilling, filled with compelling detail. Freuchen was one of the last of the great explorers, and he knew it. That rare understanding that the world was changing quickly, that he had seen and experienced things that no one else ever would, made him a remarkable person and a fascinating subject.
"Fieldwork: A Forager's Memoir" by Iliana Regan (Agate, 329 pages, $27) is suffused with a sense of yearning — for Regan's childhood home; for her sister Bunny, who has died; for a baby of her own; for the deep forest to be preserved even as it is being logged and destroyed.
Regan and her partner, Anna, own a log-cabin bed and breakfast down a rutted backroad in the Hiawatha National Forest of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Regan is a notable chef in Chicago, but she is not a city girl at heart; she grew up in rural Indiana, where her mother created fabulous meals out of food foraged from the yard and her father taught her to hunt mushrooms.
"Fieldwork" moves between the past and the present, with Regan's tender, almost magical way with wild food at its heart. No sooner does she spot a plant or a freshly caught fish than she knows exactly what she is going to do with it. "I thought of nettles. I thought how I'd wilt them with homemade vinegar and sizzling lamb fat. ... I thought of the ramps and how I liked grilling them over the open fire. There were the trout lily flowers I fermented that tasted of cucumber. ... I thought how, out here, we had everything we could ever need."
Read this book for Chapter 17 alone, a gorgeous set piece in which she gathers firewood late on a summer night and happens upon wild blackberries, and then — oh, miracle! — mushrooms. Those brilliant red lobster mushrooms of her childhood that had eluded her for years. All this time, she says, "I was looking one way when all the while they might have been right behind me." For now, her yearning is satisfied.
"Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age" by Katherine May (Riverhead, 212 pages, $26) begins with May putting voice to the anxieties and disconnection wrought by years of COVID-19, too much social media and too little human connection.
"The word I reach for the most is discombobulated," she writes. "I feel strangely empty, devoid of thought and energy."
She worries for herself, and she worries for her son. "Childhood used to have dirt under its fingernails," she says. "Now it has hand sanitizer."
And so she begins to slip outdoors. To the sea, early morning. To watch the moon, late at night. She takes up swimming. She visits a healing well, an ancient pool surrounded by ferns and briar roses. She studies beekeeping. She learns the names of wildflowers. She travels for hours to observe a meteor shower and finds, instead, the moon's shadow. "The natural world never stops giving you details to observe," she says.
May is no dilettante and these are not hobbies; she is thoughtful and serious in her approach to experiencing the natural world in order to get back on her footing.
Wonder, she knows, is all around us but we must be open to it. "If we wait passively to become enchanted, we could wait a long time."
Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. email@example.com