How wild it was, to let it be.
The wild brings out an innate reaction in us – to be completely within nature, to lose ourselves, to philosophise about finding our way. The natural world and literature often travel together, but the best literary journeys are those with a formidable, sublime beauty. Those that are great and terrible.
So it goes with Cheryl Strayed’s solo epic trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. She leaves with little experience or planning, armed with books for solace and the need to be alone. The book begins with heart stopping grief – her mother dies unexpectedly, a few weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. Strayed’s words here cannot contain the incomprehensible, gut wrenching loss she felt; they were unbelievably moving. I sobbed in the bath. The crux being, how can you survive without your mother? How can you be yourself without her?
Walking is not a simple activity here. Walking is a brutal, blistering, toenails dropping off kind of drudgery. Days are counted in miles, in footsteps. The walk itself is the goal. The trail becomes her life. I love an epic journey, the mundane made uncultivated. I love the numbers game – steps, miles, kilometres, pennies, meals, and hours. I want to know how life is divided and measured. What is worth our time? What is authentic?
When Strayed finished walking and mused about it’s meaning, she obviously didn’t know how her life was going turn out. She didn’t know that she would be writing about the hike, a decade or so later, and what the journey would mean to her when she did – To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was. The meaning of those long summer footsteps was intangible, elusive, but real nonetheless. It was wild.
I will end this with a few lines by William Butler Yeats:
now there’s a pretentious sentence…
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core
– The Lake Isle of Innisfree
Of course, I also have to read. The best, and the worst thing about this book is the craving I now have for more. I essentially want to read this book over and over again. But instead, I will try:
- Into the Wild, John Krakauer
- Tracks, Robyn Davidson
- Island Summers, Tilly Culme-Seymour
- Consolations of the Forest, Sylvain Tesson
Let me know of any travel writing or great literary journeys you have read and would like to pass on.