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Travel Book Recommendation: Windswept by Annabel Abbs

Windswept by Annabel Abbs Book Cover Pismo Beach

Windswept Has Inspired Me to Be Brave

“Remember this: a self is not a thing, but a becoming – on and on until we die.” These are the words from Windswept that I’ve carried with me on our Whistler adventures. When fear and panic attempted to dissuade me from bobsledding, ziplining, skiing, snowmobiling, and gondola riding, the words of Annabel Abbs helped me charge forward with uncharacteristic calm. Both my husband and my brother were surprised by my lack of hysterical thinking. 

Like fear and panic, I’ve always prioritized self-preservation, and homeostasis. Abbs’s words, written in her remarkable book, Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women, shifted the tectonic plates beneath my emotional landscape. If a self is not a thing, what am I protecting? If becoming is the point, perhaps my death grip on life’s handlebars isn’t helpful. It’s hard to become more than one is without embracing new experiences. As Abbs writes later on in the book, “…we must boldly venture out if we are to change within.” 

I have no plans to become careless or cavalier. I’ll be taking those ski lessons for my safety and the safety of those around me rather than hurtling myself down a black diamond without the requisite skills, thank you. It’s just that I will ski, bobsled, and do all sorts of things despite my nerves incessant chatter.

What Exactly is Windswept About?

In Windswept, Abbs shares the stories of extraordinary women, fond of walking great distances. The women are writers and artists whose proclivities for walking along great rivers, up and down mountainsides, and through expansive plains haven’t been noted in the same way as their male counterparts. Abbs walks the actual trails tread by Simone de Beauvoir, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nan Shepherd, Gwen John, and others in an attempt to better understand them. Readers get to accompany her in the mountains of Scotland, along rivers and in the forests of France, and the wide open plains of New Mexico and Texas. Through her journey, she reconnects with who she was before becoming a wife and mother. Abbs comes to a better understanding of herself and the reinvention phase of life she’s in: midlife. 

walking in Nature is healing

Pismo Beach Lone Oak Trail Blue and Green Melissa Looking at Ocean

Studies on the healing power of walking in the wilderness are woven into the autobiographical and biographical prose of Windswept. As someone who loves a good hike in the woods, especially in the Pacific Northwest, the studies mentioned were both affirming and enlightening. Here are three of the many things that I learned, or that were affirmed for me on a deeper level by reading Windswept:

  • Blues and greens are calming. “One theory suggests that when we’re surrounded by blue and green, we know that food and water are nearby and our bodies relax accordingly.” 
  • “…weight bearing leg exercise like walking – instructs the brain to produce the neurons needed to cope with stress and change.”
  • “New studies have found that walking in silence with another person can be a deeply rewarding experience, in which our bodies communicate without any need for talk.”

Chris and I have found all of the above to be true. While we lived in Vancouver, we hiked every Sunday. It was calming, connecting, and helped us think through the problems and puzzles that piled up in our minds throughout the week. Taking on challenging hikes together like Stawamus Chief, Grouse Grind, and Bishop Peak has deepened our admiration for one another.    

Windswept is a tribute to the power of walking in nature. I cannot recommend it enough. 

Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women
By Annabel Abbs
Tin House Books, 2021
392 pages

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