Into the Wild
I’ve just finished watching the movie adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild.
I first read this book during my tenure at a Buddhist monastery (pictured above) in the dead cold winter of 1998 at the remote tip of the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
The book was the buzz of the Abbey, with one copy being passed from person to person. When it came my turn, I devoured it in 24hrs almost to the minute. Though my reading speed had increased dramatically during my time at the Abbey, this personal record for me none the less.
I remember being deeply touched by this story. Before coming to the Abbey, I had made a habit of solo three-day camping trips into the mountains of my home state Maine. Often times I would head out into a Nor’easter for days of sustained 20 below temperatures. No one ever really knew where I was during those trips, and though I didn’t think much about it at the time, I am sure many people thought I would die out there one day. But I was “searching” and people knew better than try and talk me out of it. I did have great gear and learned a few things the hard way but I always seemed to get by out there.
The Abbey itself sat on an ocean cliff surrounded by nothing but mountains. Every “day-off” we had, I would head to the kitchen for some food for my pack , then “storm” the mountains. I had spent many a day with topo map and compass, peering out the library windows picking my destinations. The mountain tops I chose were always too ambitious but with piolet (mountaineering axe) in hand, I always made it there and back.
I remember one such trip, I had to cross two small but vigorous winter streams. So there in the snow, I stripped down to my underwear and crossed each one in the frigid winter run off. I remember the feeling of panic as I crossed and the blinding pain of the cold….I also remember the vivid realization that one wrong move and I would be down and lose my clothes and gear. Though terrifying at times, I have never felt so alive.
On my way back that night, the first stream has swollen to almost double its size. Once again, I swallowed my terror and cut a large pole to steady me, as I stripped down and crossed. As night fell, I had made it across but nearly frozen. The only thing I could do was get warm, dressed and continue on, getting twisted around many times darkness. Like my family and friends back home, I know that I worried the Monks and Nuns at the Abbey to death….. They always seemed relieved to see me stumble in around midnight and would set about pumping me with hot tea, while I shared stories of my day’s adventures. I had fun out in those mountains.
When I read “Into the Wild” I was struck by the Shakespearean beauty and tragedy of it. It seem to hit close to home, and I knew I felt it deeply. How one person’s recklessness, is another person’s spiritual journey. How with a couple of missteps it could all go wrong. We think we are prepared to accept fate but do we really know until we are there? I have always felt the deep suffering of Christopher McCandless. I found a kindred spirit in Chris…. Like any good story he was both hero and fool. Perhaps this describes us all.
Recently I have begun storming the winter mountains alone again. It seems an unending beckoning that I can no longer ignore. The Colorado Mountains are much less forgiving….