A Year in the Woods: Twelve Small Journeys into Nature by Torbjørn Ekelund

Translated by Becky L. Crook

"The aim of my expedition was not for the sake of humanity or science; it wasn't even for the good of those closest to me. It was for myself alone. And yet, I was convinced that something would emerge from this expedition that might hold meaning for others too."

A YEAR IN THE WOODS

Like many people today, Torbjørn Ekelund dreams of spending more time in nature. But he’s so busy with city life that he has no desire to travel far or scale the highest mountain.

So, he hatches a plan.

Ekelund decides to leave the city after work and camp near a tiny pond in the forest. The next morning, he returns to work as usual. He does this once a month for a full year. What happens over the course of that year is nothing short of transformative.

Evoking Henry David Thoreau and the four-season structure of Walden, A Year in the Woods asks if the secret to communing with nature lies in small rituals and reflection.

As Ekelund greets the same trees, rocks, streams, and soil each month, he describes his changing relationship to the landscape. He observes minute signs of growth and decay around him. And he shifts his perspective on his role within the forest, and nature itself.

What I thought

I received this wonderful book from Greystone Books ahead of its release and was just dying to dive head first into its pages. The month is June, and as I write this, I'm undergoing hospital treatment for anorexia and spending twenty-four hours a day inside with no access to fresh air. 

A Year in the Woods was the breath of fresh air that I needed, and a lovely reminder of the beautiful nature that awaits me on the other end of my own personal journey. It couldn't have come at a better time.

The first thing that struck me about this book is just how stunning the writing is. The translator, Becky Crook, manages to capture the essence of Ekelund's journey so beautifully. The prose is extremely vivid, catapulting me directly into the Nordmarka Forest in Oslo, where I can imagine everything, right down to the sounds of the snow crunching beneath Torbjørn's boots, the sights of the animal tracks and bird markings, and the scent of a freshly lit campfire. 

Torbjørn is engaging throughout, and has a lot of wisdom to share with the reader. I have to admit that upon seeing the cover, I assumed this would be just another nature book, not that I dislike them in any way. In fact, they fascinate me. But I was hoping for something different, and I found it within the pages of this book.

A Year in the Woods is like a moving meditation through life, a book that will make you question the path you are on, and the direction you're heading. It might even push you outside of your comfort zone and inspire you to look at things from a different perspective. For me, it was a reminder of the beauty of the present moment. 

Courtesy of Geran de Klerk, Unsplash

I always had this idea that in order to "find myself" I would have to follow in the footsteps of someone like Elizabeth Gilbert or Cheryl Strayed to attain that same sense of renewal they claim in their books, a rebirth of sorts. This book was a reminder that I don't need to travel around the world, or hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone, but that I can find my inner self right here at home. I don't need to follow in the footsteps of others, I can carve out my own path, and find my own patch of untouched terrain. 

"They rarely think of these small places. But if you do this, if you shift to the micro level, you will see that most of the forest still appears untouched by humankind. It takes hardly any effort to appreciate this. Turn off the main path, walk one hundred feet into the woods, pause, look around, and you will see that you are in a place that feels both untouched and completely undisturbed."

I found it inspiring to read about each obstacle and challenge that Torbjørn overcame. Despite being so close to home, where warmth and love awaited him, he instead continued on his micro-expeditions. It was lovely to watch him grow more confident as the months moved forward. The personal change and inner growth from January to December was fascinating.  

This was a reminder that we all start out in one place and while wandering through the unknown, we will encounter our own challenges, such as right now in my personal life. But being able to see these obstacles as opportunities to continue on is truly inspiring.

The months of June and July resonated with me most in the book. Torbjørn looks back on the steps he's taken and talks about the notions of what makes life worth living, as well as the passage of time, and how one day we might have something, and the next day we might not. I found this chapter beautiful because it's exactly where I'm at right now, looking back on the steps I've taken and checking in with myself to make sure I'm on the right path moving forward. I absolutely loved this part of the book. 

A celebration of life, the beauty that surrounds us, and living in the present moment, A Year in the Woods was a gorgeous read, and one I highly recommend. 

Torbjørn is also the author of In Praise of Paths, which I'm definitely adding to my want to read list after reading this. I've included a synopsis below.


Torbjørn Ekelund started to walk - everywhere - after an epilepsy diagnosis affected his ability to drive. The more he ventured out, the more he came to love the act of walking, and an interest in paths emerged. In this poignant, meandering book, Ekelund interweaves the literature and history of paths with his own stories from the trail. 

As he walks with shoes on and barefoot, through forest creeks and across urban streets, he contemplates the early tracks made by ancient snails and traces the wanderings of Romantic poets, amongst other musings. If we still "understand ourselves in relation to the landscape," Ekelund asks, then what do we lose in an era of car travel and navigation apps? And what will we gain from taking to paths once again?

Courtesy of Greystone Books

Torbjørn Ekelund
is a writer, author, and co-founder of Harvest, an online magazine documenting wilderness adventures, environmental issues, and our relationship with nature. He lives in Oslo, Norway.

A Year in the Woods is available for pre-order (releasing Oct 12th) from Indigo. Check GoodReads for additional retailers.

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