Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wild!

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed is our next Wednesday Book Club choice. I hope that plenty of you have had a chance to read it. The author tells the story of her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I enjoyed this book a lot!



I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately. I didn’t set out to do so, but it seems that after reading this book I wanted to maintain that feeling of having a glimpse into a writer’s life.

Memoir is such a challenging genre. A little too much information can leave me feeling a bit uncomfortable with the writer’s “over-shares.” Too little detail and I wonder why they bothered. Still, a memoir is always a good reminder that we humans are complicated and wondrous critters.

How about “Wild”? What did you think?

I look forward to our discussion!  

55 comments:

  1. Complicated and wonderous critters -- yes.

    I liked the book. It is interesting to have those glimpses into another life. I'm pretty sure that the book was better because the author had a good number of years to process the experience; but it did not seem to me that she sugar-coated it, just that it was tempered a bit by the broader perspective of those years.

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  2. As a kid, I had elaborate fantasies about surviving in the wild. They were fed by history (stories of pioneers and explorers), literature (Swiss Family Robinson and so on), and pop culture (Gilligan's Island). Even as a young adult, I thought I might have the endurance for a big adventure. Now, I make lists and plans in case of emergency; everybody needs an earthquake kit, emergency supplies in the trunk, etc.

    But Strayed acted on this idea of going to the wilderness when she was relatively young and strong; and tried to confront her demons there. Brave and stupid, but it turned out OK so she was mostly brave. She was both underprepared for what the trail threw at her, and overprepared (lugging "the Monster," filled with so much weight that someone else had to cull for her after the first stretch).

    I really like the over-prepared yet under-prepared contrast; think that is true for most of us, one time or another.

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  3. As a memoir, this is a true story (or as true as the author can make it). One theme that resonated for me was how she literally needed to unload baggage; don't we all? The things she carried -- even when she had to -- were a literal weight on her body, with physical effects. And so -- she kept track of where she could get water next. She did without. She burned pages of her beloved books that she no longer needed. She wore the same clothes, so as not to carry more.

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  4. I'm not sure she spent a lot of time on the trail actually confronting the demons she meant to confront. Instead, she found her own resilience -- a tool weighing little, but that she could carry forever.

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  5. I noticed that theme as well, of carrying heavy baggage. Cheryl learned how to identify the necessary burdens (because who could make such a journey free of ALL burdens?)and contrast them with the burdens she thought were necessary but were really not important at all.

    I liked the box outside the store at the first resting point, filled with all of the detritous of other climbers. It showed that items that might be useless to one person might serve another (ahem - condoms).

    As someone who routinely climbs through life with a "Monster" of unnecessary baggage weighing on my back, I totally connected to the sheer burden of Cheryl's pack. Her physical journey, for me, was something of an incarnation of the psychological journey we take through life.

    What do we need to bring with us the rest of the way - things that continue to help us learn and grow - and what do we REALLY need to leave behind because we do not need them or the guilt, sadness, frustration that those things cause?

    Hmm...

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  6. Oh, I love the "share" boxes, too. That ski pole helped her through the entire rest of the journey.

    Heh -- the condoms.

    Also -- the kindness of strangers. The unexpected gift of bonding with others on the trail; of others hoping to meet her, just because she was a bit ahead of them.

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  7. I just started it and I am totally hooked. I am fascinated by the relationship Cheryl describes with her mother and I'm dying to read more about her ex-husband. The author does a great job doling out details like breadcrumbs leading the reader along the path of self-discovery but one that will not be simple or easy. Why did she need such a arduous quest? Why am I relating so strongly to it? (Disclosure: I've dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail for most of my adult life). How far does she have to shuck her ego to find her peace?

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    1. Well -- most of her ego gets left behind along the way, I think. Probably when she loses the boot is when she gives up on fanciness like "ego." YMMV.

      Duct tape, though. That works in emergencies.

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    2. Yes. The Duct tape. :)

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  8. Keep reading Miranda, all will be revealed. It is a bit of a winding path to the end of the trail/story - that's what makes it a good turner. Her relationships are complex, but I suppose the same could be said of most relationships.

    I'm glad you're enjoying the book!

    Kathy a - I loved the way other hikers would meet her and have such reverence for her because she had been on the trail ahead of them. Some of that admiration was probably for completing another tough leg of the journey, but I suspect she was raised to rock star status because she was a) alone and b) a woman.

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    1. Not a lot of women on the trail, that's true.

      But actually not many people at all -- I gather this trail is far less used than the Appalachian trail. It does not sound like there are many places to do a day hike, or a couple days. The terrain is arduous; most of the trail is pretty isolated.

      So, the travelers make up a very small club. People skipped parts; people stopped to rest or take side-trips while others forged ahead; whenever hikers met, they exchanged news. So, some people ahead of Cheryl on the trail also heard of her before she met them.

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    2. You're right. Some of her "fans" had heard of her and then skipped ahead before they met her.

      I wondered if she had started the hike at a time of year that isn't as busy, but she was hiking for a long time and it still seemed so isolated. My heart was pounding when those two creepy guys were being....well, creepy. Her instincts were good though, and she was smart. And possibly a bit lucky too. It gave me the shivers to think of how alone a person is out there. I'm a worrier by nature so I thought of broken limbs and other critical injuries. How long before another hiker comes along?

      Which explains why I've never been on such an adventure.

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  9. I think she was hiking in summer; probably the busy time for the trail. This was in 1995, though, and maybe there is more traffic now?

    Yeah, the creepy guys. She had her whistle, but who would have been close enough to hear it? The magnitude of the wilderness areas she walked is hard to really grasp -- just enormous, mostly far from civilization.

    I need my alone time, but could never do a solo trip like that -- even if I was fit enough. I'd also be worrying about the things that could go wrong -- accidents, animals, weirdo creeps, running out of water, getting lost. (I would definitely get lost.) My backpack would weigh 800 lbs. There is only one occasion when I spent the night in a wilderness area with no rest rooms, and that pretty much filled my lifetime need for that particular experience.

    Still, I can really understand the urge to just make a huge break with what she had done before, give herself time to reinvent or rebuild herself.

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  10. The loss of her mom, and subsequent unraveling of her family, was huge. She was still grieving, those 4 years later when she took the trip.

    The loss of her marriage on top of that. She married so young! But she unfailingly speaks in caring terms about her first husband. We do not hear of any big blow-ups; only that this relationship unraveled as well, despite their mutual fondness.

    On the other hand, she does not spare (so far as we can tell) details of her own worrisome behavior: the drifting, the sleeping around, the heroin. Heroin! There was reason for her to think she needed to get away and heal herself.

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  11. This book reminded me of Folly, by Laurie R. King. That was the one I originally suggested. It is another story of going away to heal (but fiction).

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  12. Yes, and I kept finding myself wondering if she really did heal herself. There's a bit of the magical there that somehow didn't ring quite true to me.....Or maybe I'm too cynical, or addictions are too hard to break, but I found myself applying hand to forehead when she fell back into the chewable heroin thing, and the sleeping with that dude. Maybe I have gotten prudish as I've aged (or maybe I always was), but I didn't see the romantic part of that interlude. It seemed more sad to me, given all that came before. I kind of wanted to yell at her, "Look what you can do! Look at all you have accomplished on the trail! Why are you falling into your old habits?!?! Wasn't the point to try and have a clean break from all that.?! But then again, I haven't had the addictions she has had, so maybe this is more realistic? I guess I was enthralled, but wasn't sure how uplifting it was, all told.
    I hope she turned out ok, for real.
    --Neighbor Lady

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  13. Good point, Neighbor Lady. She did not write this book until more than 15 years after the trip; maybe she needed that time to keep growing? Maybe the lessons were not immediate, but having accomplished the trek, she was better equipped when life threw other things her way?

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  14. I hope so....I want more of her story, I think. What happened after? How did she get to the point where she could write the book 15 years later....
    --Neighbor Lady

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  15. Is there actually a time when we are completely healed, or is it an ongoing process? I think of the obstacles along the way as things that never really leave; but at some point, yes, they no longer take so much space in my head.

    Cheryl wrote a couple of books after the trek, and before this one. She became an advice columnist in between! She's on some kind of giant book tour, but apparently I missed the appearance in my area.

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  16. She does a little video clip here, about the trek: http://www.cherylstrayed.com/index.htm

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  17. I felt a bit sad when she slipped back into the old life too. I think the hike showed her that she was stronger than she thought. Without the challenges and triumphs of the hike, I suspect she would not have been as equipped to get out of the cycle of addiction and promiscuity. I can't say for sure, obviously, but it seems like she found her way out after a few (or more, who knows?) slips.

    That block of time after the hike ended and the book was written might be a whole other book. I guess we will have to stay tuned.

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    1. I find myself wondering about her post-hike life. I loved that she named her daughter after her mother.

      I have thoughts but I will be back later.

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  18. So interesting--
    maybe I'll check out those others, to see what they're like.
    And, kathy a., I think it's such a good point about not ever being completely healed. I so see that in my life with different issues....
    --Neighbor Lady

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  19. I'm re-reading the book. Remembered a couple more things last night.

    One thing the trail let Cheryl do was feel all parts of her grief for her mother -- the sadness, the loss, the anger. She couldn't really run and hide on the trail (e.g., drifing around, sleeping around, shooting up). But she could do it in little, manageable pieces, because....

    The hike was not the 24/7 navel-gazing exercise she might have imagined before starting. She spent a whole lot of time on the trail feeling her body hurt, and launching it forward anyway. In a way, the hike itself was nearly as all-consuming as responding to a disaster -- it took so much, and there was not much left for self-pity.

    Perhaps, too, the enormity and variety of the land she hiked helped put her grief and confusion into a better perspective. Every step of those hundreds of miles, she was earning a closer relationship with the big beautiful earth.

    Every day of solitude, she was differentiating her self from others, finding she could be separate and independent. I wonder if she felt (before) that she always had to be with someone, anyone, to be a person herself? She married young; she was completely devastated when her mother died, not being able to imagine life without her; running off to those men to fill some perceived gap in herself. It seems to me that Cheryl needed to know she could stand alone; that her identity was something other than being an extension of someone else.

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  20. I think a lot of us can relate to needing our own independent identity and core beliefs and goals and accomplishments; needing to not just be someone's daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, mother.

    I guess we achieve that independence and find our cores in different ways. That, too, is a process; something that we keep tinkering with through our lives.

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  21. Good points kathy!

    I especially like the idea that the vastness of the landscape helped to put her grief and pain in perspective. It's a bit like looking at a clear night sky - it's so big. I suppose there is the possibility that such vastness could make one feel small and therefore insignificant. For me, though, the enormity of the universe we live in has always served to remind me that I am part of something so much bigger than myself - and I'm so glad to be in it!

    Rather than a tiny speck, I feel like one part of a miraculous whole.

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  22. Beautiful, Sue and Kathy!
    :)Neighbor Lady

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  23. Ack! She's Oprafied! There is an interview of Cheryl on Oprah's show this Sunday, 4/14: http://www.oprah.com/own/tv-schedule/index.html?q=Super+Soul+Sunday I don't think I can watch it, since I have this thing about not buying cable/satellite TV, but apparently Oprah posts some interviews on her website.

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  24. There is also that backstory about her mom dying. Cheryl is the one who showed up. Could have been a shared burden, and it wasn't really. Her mom had been the one with the "glue" in the family, the one who brought everyone together. Lot to chew on, there.

    Showing up matters, in my opinion. Or trying to.

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    1. I agree that showing up is important, but I saw a different side of this when my mom was dying. One of my sisters simply could not visit mom in the hospital. She's a little bit fragile that way, and the rest of us did not think it was necessary to push her.

      Because she wasn't spending time with mom at the hospital, she kept everything else under control - I mean everything. She could be relied upon for all of those little things like making sure mom's nightgowns were fresh and clean, that dad had meals, that we always had rides to the hospital.

      What she could not bear to do at the bedside she made up for in caring for the rest of us. Taking care of us was her way of helping mom. I'm still thankful. My sister did what she could do and that was enough.

      For Cheryl though, it was a different story. Her brother was a no show and her step-dad wasn't much help even when he was there. I was 32 when my mom died and I had an amazing support system around me. Cheryl was ten years younger. It must have been awful.

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    2. I agree, Sue -- there are different ways of "showing up" and helping. Your sister did the parts she could, and that was a big part that helped everyone. We all give in our own ways. xoxo

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  25. OK, I'm only about a third of the way in, and I'm not reading any other comments right now to avoid spoilers (though I guess if she's writing the book she made it, huh?). But...I love it. Sue is two for two. She can pick my books anytime!

    I will chime in in a day or two when I finish it. Baboos are strangely uncooperative with Mama Reads All Day Plan.

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  26. Glad you're enjoying it esperanza. "Wild" was in the first group of pixie suggestions, but was not one of mine. I read it after that first round of ideas and liked it so much I tossed it back into the line-up later on. I just finished a book that I will recommend next time were looking for new material - it is soooooo good!!!

    I watched the two minute teaser for the Oprah interview. Cheryl says if she had to sum up the book in one word, it would be "acceptance." She went on to say that she was constantly needing to accept the next mile, the time of day, the conditions etc. she also said the whole experience taught her humility as well.

    I've been thinking about her name change. Was this another way to leave the pain of the past behind? I wonder if her last name was originally the same as her mother's. if so, it would have been easy enough to take back after the divorce. I do like the name she chose though. It seems like it was a good decision for her - I didn't pickup any hints of regret.

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    1. She didn't want to become again the person she had been in high school. I can understand that -- though personally, I never wanted to change my name, even though I knew I would become different things as time went along.

      Names are such personal things. It was important to her then to make a clean break, from both her childhood and her marriage.

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  27. Cheryl Strayed is a two-word story. She always wanted to be a writer.

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  28. oh, well, just take the credit, Sue! I have another to add too.

    I just read the name change part. Until then, I had been pronouncing it (in my head) with two syllables and wondering what sort of ethnic background it came from. Clearly, I am clueless.

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    1. Esperanza -- I was trying to figure out her background from the name, too.

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  29. On re-read, p. 111. This, I found really sad -- Cheryl decides that being the only girl in the woods, she needs to "sexually neutralize" the men. Then she explains that she has always used her prettiness and girliness, the strategy she had "banked on all through high school, starving myself thin, playing cute and dumb so I'd be popular and loved." Now she just needed to be smelly and tired and one of the guys.

    Maybe it was a gift that I never was one of those cute thin pretty play-stupid girls? (Not that I haven't used the "I'm really nice" thing as needed.) But really. I always wanted to be an actual person, and it is heartbreaking to think she got to 26 and had to go do something this major before she thought of just being a person with the guys.

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  30. P. 153, reflections on Eddie, the step-father who was her real father, and then stopped doing that when her mom died. That is incredibly sad.

    My kids loved my father -- loved loved loved -- and they were raised thinking of his second wife as the grandma they knew best. And after dad died, she cut us off. I really wish it had not gone that way.

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    1. That's so sad kathy. Family dynamics......they're never simple are they?

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  31. Oh, Kathy a., that is heartbreaking.
    I, too, found the situation with the step-father so sad. And hard to understand.
    --Neighbor Lady

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  32. I'm done! I finished it today in the car, bravely fending off motion sickness. Because that's comparable to hiking 1000 miles.

    It left me simultaneously thinking that I should go hiking again sometime (the memories of pain and breathless gasping and how much I dislike going without a shower having faded over the last 15 years or so) and thinking what a big weenie I am, that I would never do something so...brave/stupid/big/beyond me.

    Like many of you, her behavior with me was a little perplexing. For almost every man she mentioned (except the gay guy), there was almost a rating system of how attractive they were and how likely or unlikely a bed partner they would be for her. Maybe I'm repressed, but that's not the first thing that comes to mind when I meet a stranger.

    That's enough for now. Gotta work tomorrow, sermon needs polishing and printing.

    Thanks, again, Sue. Five stars.

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    1. make that "her behavior with MEN" not me. Duh. And why can't I edit my own comment, Blogger???

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    2. Maybe the rating of boys links back to having always relied on her cuteness, never having thought of herself as one of the guys?

      Obviously, she had plenty of reasons to feel insecure: abuse and abandonment by her biological father; her mother's absence (leaving the kids alone while she worked); living so isolated on the farm after the stepfather showed up (no indoor plumbing, which was not how the other local kids lived); nobody to give her direction about college; death of her mom; disintegration of her birth family; collapse of her young marriage; job insecurity.

      Perhaps she just did not realize she had other talents and survival tools? My own defense against the insecurities was feeling I needed a good education, and that I needed to work and be self-sufficient. But I knew women -- smart, funny, creative -- who always felt they needed a man (at least a date), to the extent that they sold their own talents short. (That was absolutely true for my own mother.)

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  33. At the very beginning of the book, she talks about watching her boot fall off the edge of a cliff. I actually caught my breath when that and thought "that is totally something that would happen to me." It's true - I am deeply and profoundly clumsy and have been my whole life.

    It was one of those moments when something life-changing (or in this case hike-changing) happens and you know it will have a huge impact on your life.

    I can think of a few "boot off a cliff" moments in my life. I knew at the time that what was happening would reverberate for a long time. But, like Cheryl with the lost boot, i resolved the situation the best way possible and kept moving forward.

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    1. She did resolve it -- not an elegant fix, but the best available one. At least nobody thought she should toss the duct tape to save weight!

      The most heart-stopping moment for me was when she reached the patch of snow and ice, with the horrible slide down to boulders below. ACK! I sincerely think I would have turned back rather than cross that with The Monster on my back -- being of the klutzy persuasion myself, I could see myself going right over.

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  34. ....when that HAPPENED. .....duh. Should proofread.

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  35. I've been following the blog posts of a young woman who is hiking the AT right now.

    Here is the link (sorry not to link it properly - rough morning)

    http://kidinboots.weebly.com/appalachian-trail.html

    Her site is called "Kid in boots" :)

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    1. Great link, Sue! The AT sounds so much more reasonable -- shelters, even sometimes shelters where you can order pizza! More towns along the way. And more people.

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    2. But...more people...that makes it seem less appealing to me. I totally got why she wanted to hike alone sometimes. I'm sure I would get tired of it, but that amount of solitude sounds just about right. But perhaps I've spent most of the day hanging out with people...

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  36. A friend and I are meeting up to do some hiking tomorrow! Our hiking:Cheryl's hiking::toothpick:sequoia

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  37. Found this fascinating:
    http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/7-Things-That-Didnt-Make-it-Into-Wild-by-Cheryl-Strayed/2
    --Neighbor Lady

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  38. That does answer a few of those questions, NL.

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What do you think?