Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Title:  Wild:  From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Author:  Cheryl Strayed
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2012. 313 pages.
ISBN:  0307592731 / 978-0307592736

Book Source:  I read this book based on its publicity. Since then, my book club has also chosen to read it.

Opening Sentence:  "The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California."

Favorite Quote:  "I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And most surprising of all, that I could carry it. That I could bear the unbearable. These realizations about my physical, material life couldn't help but spill over into the emotional and spiritual realm. That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding. It had begun to occur to me that perhaps it was okay that I hadn't spent my days on the trail pondering the sorrows of my life, that perhaps by being forced to focus on my physical suffering, some of my emotional suffer would fade away."

Cheryl Strayed was born in 1968. Her parents divorced when she was fairly young. After that point, her mother was the anchor of her world. She spent her teen years in rural Minnesota on a property with 40 acres of land, but, for a while, no electricity or running water. Her mother remained the anchor of her world. Cheryl moved away for college but remained very close with her mother.

Unfortunately, in 1991, Cheryl mother died suddenly, leaving her reeling from the loss. At the same time, her marriage fell apart, partly due to her own decisions. In fact, she picked her name "Strayed" upon her divorce. "Nothing fit until one day when the strayed came into my mind. Immediately, I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine. Its layered definitions spoke directly to my life and also struck a poetic chord:  To wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress."

In response to the chaos in her life, Cheryl Strayed found a focal point - to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and to do it alone. The Pacific Crest Trail Association's trail "frequently asked questions" state, "On the PCT, your safety is your own responsibility. While there are permits, no officials are actively monitoring or keeping track of your location. You should provide your itinerary to family or friends and check in with them frequently." A young woman with little to no hiking experience decides to hike the trail alone. She leaves an itinerary, and she checks in. She prepares for her trek, but in many ways, she starts on this venture completely unprepared.

Distraught with grief for her mother's death and at a crossroads in her life, Cheryl Strayed does exactly this. Through this book, written almost a decade later, she brings us along on this journey with her. The journey is a physical one and very much a spiritual one. I may not agree with many of her choices (about venturing on this path alone, about money, about men, about relationships, about her mother's remains...), but I find myself stepping through every step of the journey with her.

On her website, Cheryl Strayed has this to say about this book - "Wild is not in the 'I did any interesting thing so I wrote a book about it' genre. It's a literary memoir. I didn't write Wild because I took a hike; I wrote Wild because I am a writer." In addition, "like any memoir, WILD is based primarily on memory crafted with the intention of creating a piece of literature..."

In other words, this book is a literary work and should be assessed as such. The decisions Cheryl Strayed makes in her life are not open to discussion. Her life, her decisions. What is the discussion here is the story she tells. As a story, the book is riveting. I find myself highlighting passages that speak to me. Sometimes, I see the vistas she sees. Sometimes, I want to stop her from repeating her mistakes. Sometimes, I feel the strength of her grief and the power of solace she sought from this trek. Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren't a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. The radical aloneness of the PCT had altered that sense. Alone wasn't a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in the world, occupying it in a way I never had before. Living at large like this, without even a roof over my head, made the world feel both bigger and smaller to me. Until now, I hadn't truly understood the world's vastness - hadn't even understood how vast a mile could be - until each mile was beheld at walking speed. And yet there was also its opposite, the strange intimacy I'd come to have with the trail..." Her words make me feel as if I am along with her throughout the journey.

I don't agree with some of her choices, but I do truly appreciate her courage in taking the journey and her decision to share it with the world.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment