Words To Live By: 12 Inspirational Outdoor Quotes

A dozen moving and motivational life lessons from the outdoor greats, drawn from the work of best-loved writers from John Muir and Henry David Thoreau to Robert Macfarlane and Cheryl Strayed

19th June 2020 | Words by Matt Jones @ WildBounds HQ

Alt tag: “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ― John Muir

1. John Muir
The ‘Father of the National Parks’, Scottish-American writer and naturalist John Muir was an early advocate for the protection and preservation of wilderness. In 1903 he even managed to drag President Theodore Roosevelt out on a three-night camping trip, bending his ear about the importance of Yosemite to the American nation. A true evangelist for the benefits of spending time outdoors, Muir’s writings are simple, elegant and powerful.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

2. Ralph Waldo Emerson
There has possibly been no greater intellectual champion of nature than American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. His work proved hugely influential on the transcendentalist and romantic movements, inspiring a generation of successors, from Henry David Thoreau to William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. An individualist in every sense of the word, he remains a hero for trailblazers and radical thinkers alike.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” ― Jack Kerouac

3. Jack Kerouac
The ‘king of the beats’, Kerouac’s writings defined a generation. The spontaneous prose of On the Road captured the dreams and frustrations of post-war American youth, as Kerouac flitted restlessly from city to city via boxcars, bars and wildernesses. But there was a brief respite from his hobo existence – during the summer of 1956, Kerouac spent 63 days as a fire lookout for the U.S. Forest Service, marooned atop Desolation Peak in Washington’s North Cascades. He remains a cult hero for wandering souls and seekers of solitude alike.

“Come forth into the light things, let nature be your teacher.” ― William Wordsworth

4. William Wordsworth
As the preeminent poet of the Lake District, no-one – with the possible exception of Wainwright – has conveyed such a love for the fells and tarns of Cumberland and Westmorland as William Wordsworth. When it came to stamina, WW probably also trumped AW. As his diaries reveal, he often walked ‘scarcely less than twenty miles a day.’ In fact, it is estimated that Wordsworth walked 175,000 miles in his lifetime, an impressive feat and something that any serious walker might want to aspire to.

Alt tag: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ― Henry David Thoreau

5. Henry David Thoreau
In July 1845, a 28-year-old writer called Henry David Thoreau retreated to an area of private woodland near Concord, Massachusetts. He built a simple cabin near Walden Pond, and lived there for the next two years, two months, and two days. What resulted was the book Walden, or Life in the Woods. Part memoir and part spiritual quest, it is a powerful exploration of self-sufficiency, allied with close observation of harmony and beauty in nature. It would become one of the seminal works of American literary history.

“To aim for the highest point is not the only way to climb a mountain.” ― Nan Shepherd

6. Nan Shepherd
Scottish writer and poet Nan Shepherd’s artistic life was a paean to the majestic and powerful landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. Her memoir, The Living Mountain, based on her experiences of hill walking in the Cairngorms, has influenced virtually every subsequent British nature writer. Nobody has better captured the allure of mountains, their exquisite majesty and changing aspects through the seasons, their inexorable pull on those with an affinity for natural landscapes, or their importance as a habitat for a myriad of interconnected birds, animals and plants.

“All places are more than the sum of their physical components, and I saw that Antarctica existed most vividly in the mind. It was a metaphorical landscape, and in an increasingly grubby world it had been romanticised to fulfil a human need for sanctuary. Mythical for centuries, so it remained.” ― Sara Wheeler

7. Sara Wheeler
For centuries, the polar regions have been a backdrop for feats of heroism, endurance and frequently, desperation. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, these great white expanses were the almost exclusive preserve of swarthy, bearded explorers. The resulting written output concerning life in the high Arctic or the far South has been overwhelmingly male dominated. In 1995, Sara Wheeler offered a refreshingly different perspective when she became the first female writer-in-residence with the U.S. Polar Program, spending seven months in Antarctica. Her book recounting those experiences, Terra Incognita, is a wonderful meditation on the polar regions both real and imagined, a place where scientists, dreamers and weirdos collide in far-flung, frozen research stations.

“Anyone who lives in a city will know the feeling of having been there too long. The gorge-vision that the streets imprint on us, the sense of blockage, the longing for surfaces other than glass, brick, concrete and tarmac....I have lived in Cambridge on and off for a decade, and I imagine I will continue to do so for years to come. And for as long as I stay here, I know I will have to also get to the wild places.” ― Robert Macfarlane

8. Robert Macfarlane
The leading light of the so-called ‘new nature writers’, Robert Macfarlane’s books on landscape, memory, place, people and language have struck a chord across the generations with all those who feel an affinity for the natural world. No writer has more eloquently captured the collective unease about the way that contemporary society and human behaviour continues to erode and destroy some of our most precious landscapes, nor the importance of nature to man.

“Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.” ― Edward Abbey

9. Edward Abbey
As a former ranger for the U.S. National Parks Service, perhaps it is no surprise that Edward Abbey became such a prominent advocate and campaigner for environmental issues. His outspoken views on public land in America and his criticism of the existing U.S. political system were – and remain – controversial. His books, particularly the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, have also been cited as an inspiration by environmental and eco-terrorist groups. A maverick and radical, he articulated the vital importance of wilderness better than almost any other contemporary writer.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods. There is rapture on the lonely shore. There is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea and music in its roar. I love not man the less, but Nature more.” ― Lord Byron

10. Lord Byron
‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know’, George Gordon – Lord Byron – became infamous for his hedonistic lifestyle during the Romantic age. He was the original ‘rockstar’ poet. And though not generally acclaimed as a poet of nature, he had his tender and more reflective moments, as the quote above reveals. He was also a daredevil – aged 22, while on a grand tour of Europe, he famously swam across the Hellespont, a tumultuous four-mile strait in northwestern Turkey. Not bad for a man who was born with a club foot.

“There's more truth about a camp than a house. Planning laws need not worry the improvising builder because temporary structures are more beautiful anyway, and you don't need permission for them. There's more truth about a camp because that is the position we are in. The house represents what we ourselves would like to be on earth: permanent, rooted, here for eternity. But a camp represents the true reality of things: we're just passing through.” ― Roger Deakin

11. Roger Deakin
The nature writer’s nature writer, Deakin’s deceptively simple, heartfelt and eloquent books are now championed by a slew of contemporary commentators. They demonstrate a wholly authentic and deeply pure love for nature in all its forms that few others can match. Deakin’s ability to describe fleeting moments and the tiniest details in shimmering prose was much undervalued. Waterlog, the only book published in his lifetime, has become a spiritual bible for wild swimmers everywhere. His death in 2006 was a huge loss for all lovers of beautiful nature writing, though his books now garner the wider attention they always deserved.

“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” ― Cheryl Strayed

12. Cheryl Strayed
It takes a certain kind of person to want to walk a very long way for no particular reason. But few writers have summed up what drives long-distance backpackers and thru-hikers better than US author Cheryl Strayed. Her book, Wild – subsequently made into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon – is not a conventional account of life on the trail. It’s a memoir that documents a journey of self-discovery as much as it is an account of hiking 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. But it is both hugely readable and incredibly inspiring, and has made countless hikers want to lace up their boots and set out on life-changing adventures.

Credit: Artwork by Matt Jones, created using Quotescover with background images via Unsplash.

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