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Wild: a Review

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed

Strayed was raised in Minnesota, and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in a number of magazines. She's the winner of many writing prizes too many to list.. She has an MFA. She's married to the filmmaker, Brian Lindstrom, and has two children.

WILD is such an award winner, it is being published in eighteen other languages and has been optioned for film by Reese Witherspoon's movie production company, (Pacific Standard).

A friend of mine not only suggested I read it, but insisted. I didn't understand why. After all, I am not a wilderness backpacking kind of person. But Brian knows me well enough to realize I would enjoy this memoir even before it became a #1 New York Times bestseller.

How many of you have gone to Burning Man? Gone camping or backpacking overnight? Just think about it a minute. Lots of things can go wrong. How well prepared were you? How many would NEVER want to do those things? In either case, one does not need to have had a wilderness experience to enjoy this book.

This memoir is about how, when at age 22, Cheryl’s mother dies. Her grief is so strong it obliterates everything she ever thought she was. She drops out of college with one class to go. She causes the demise of her marriage, and takes on a lot of dangerous self-destructive behavior. Her life falls apart and by the end of four years she is lost and disconnected, unable to find purpose. Her life is going nowhere and she wants to make a major change. She wants to heal herself. She wants to leave that old life behind her and make a fresh start. So, she decides to hike from the Mojave desert to the Oregon border following the Pacific Crest Trail. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t do that by walking a thousand miles all by myself... alone,....  out in the wilderness without the necessities of life! I think I’d rather do a stint for a week of Burning Man with 50,000 wild people if I wanted to effect a major change!

The author’s style of writing easily takes you directly into her feelings of grief, loss, and questioning identity we have all experienced. She writes facts clearly and does an excellent job presenting details without bogging down. One thing in particular I liked about the way she wrote her memoir is that she is able to create a vivid scene to grab you in, then switch back to the base story behind it. I usually don’t like that in a book, but found her writing seamless, sensibly honest and yet shockingly bold, raw and intimate. She bares her soul like an open wound. Her descriptions of nature are so vivid that if you didn’t know she was alone on that trail, you might think you were with her.

Anyone could tell the tale of their wilderness experience, but very few could tell it with the same impact. I'd like to say this was a book I couldn't put down. I'd like to say it's a complete read through, that it took only a day to read. Nope! Not the case for me. Truly it's a page turner. But, like a beautiful work of art, I could only absorb so much in one sitting, it was so intense and rich. Yet, I couldn't wait to get back to reading it again as soon as possible. And I have now read it twice.

This memoir will resonate with anyone who has struggled with life's challenges even if one has no desire to go backpacking. I think Wild has a universal appeal. It's what Joseph Campbell referred to as "The Hero's Journey".

Sometimes life brings challenges that beat us down. We all learn something from those circumstances. Sometimes it takes years to realize what an impact our experiences have had on us. One thing we all do is gain inner strength and wisdom whether we realize it at the time or not. That's what Cheryl wrote about, and she waited twenty years to let the experiences sink in and help her to look retrospectively upon that time in her life when she literally took her life in her own hands rather than continue to suffer the path she was taking. I found the book very inspiring. To me this is the Hero... stepping out in blind faith seeking a truth only she could find. And like so many of us, it is what happens to us on the way to where we are going and how we handle it that is “The Journey”.

What can you do when you find yourself on a path, nowhere near civilization and you are suffering from freezing cold, or hunger, or dehydration in the desert? Or facing off with bears, rattlesnakes, and other wild animals? What can you do? You just have to keep going. This was the thing I found most appealing about her story. She makes it clear without any pretense that you have no other choice but to put one foot in front of the other regardless of the circumstances and keep going. Sometimes you make decisions that you regret and then you have to make new choices about how you will go on. But, truly you just have to keep going. That's what life is about. Isn't it?

This is a book that will make even the most stoic person weep. So, if you read it, unless you want to make a spectacle of yourself, don't do so at your local Starbucks or any place else in public..

I was so deeply touched by this book and very happy to learn Cheryl would be speaking at the Capitola Book Cafe, I could hardly wait. But, I was too ill that day to attend. My disappointment was so strong that two weeks later, I drove 120 miles to Point Reyes to hear her speak. It was well worth the effort, and when I told her that my friend, Brian, encouraged me to read her book I had to laugh when she said... “Oh? Brian is my best friend!”

It's funny how things are connected.


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