Monday, September 17, 2012

On "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed

It was the title that first caught my eye as I quickly looked over the "New Fiction" shelf in Barnes and NobleWild.  It's one of my favorite words.  It's a word I love to think about because, for some reason, it comforts me.  I like to imagine the wilderness as this beautiful, untouched place.  This place where there is only you and the natural order of things.  It's scary, but it's honest, you know?  That's the best thing about the wilderness: it is honest.

In God's wilderness lies the great hope of the world
the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
-- John Muir

I didn't buy the book that day, but did go back a month later when I couldn't get it off my mind.  I've been on a kick lately where I've been loving memoirs, especially those written by women who are going through it at the time.  I like being with them through the struggle, and I love being with them when they find their way to the other side.  It inspires me like nothing else.

So I was really looking forward to getting to know Cheryl.  I knew going it that this was going to be about her journey dealing with the utter tragedy of her mother's illness and death (fair warning: you'll cry), the disintegration of her small family, her despair, the breaking apart of her marriage, her foray into men and drugs, and then her determination to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and find herself in that Hail Mary attempt.  But I'll be honest, after getting a few chapters into the book, I wasn't sure I was going to like Cheryl very much.  She was blunt and edgy.  She said and did things that I'm not sure would be forgivable in my world.  She crossed moral lines I didn't agree with, she made choices I would ever have made.  There were so many moments where I thought, "No!  Don't do that!  Say this instead!  Pull yourself together!!!"  I just didn't understand her.

But I stuck with the book because I wanted to read about the PCT.  I wanted the writing to make it real in my mind, to allow me to see places I've never been to and experience things I haven't yet.

And somewhere along the way, I began to realize that I'm a judgmental ass.

Ms. Strayed tells it like it is and it's a real, raw and honest portrayal of the very rocky years of her mid-twenties.  The bottom came out from under her when her mother passed away so suddenly.  She was young and found herself in a horrible situation, with little family support, and a marriage to a man she loved but couldn't be with anymore.  She made choices.  We all do.  Her choices led her to the PCT and, eventually, herself.

Her telling of this intense 1,100 mile hike from the Mojave Desert to the border of Oregon and Washington is harrowing, painful and beautiful.  It has also inspired me to attempt a small portion (and by small I mean NOTHING LIKE WHAT SHE DID) of the PCT -- to do something I think is impossible, to challenge myself, and to see places I've only ever dreamed about.

So in the end, I loved this book.  I loved her journey.  I almost yelled at Nate when he attempted to make idle chit chat with me as I read through the final two pages -- I mean, who does that?

If you like memoirs, if you like honest story-telling or if you like tales of survival in every sense, I would suggest Cheryl Strayed's Wild.  I have a copy if you'd like to borrow it.

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