Book Review: Into the Wild

In a box, in the basement of my mom's house, I found this book I bought at the Chinook Bookshop in Colorado Springs in 1996. I thought the book had been lost in time and travel along with so many other pieces of the past that we once held in our hand, but then disappear, and it's the ghost, void, of these things that we carry. But here it is. In my hand.

A remarkable coincidence, as I had been very much thinking about this book and its deeply moving story for most of the last six months as I tried my best to recreate Eddie Vedder's soundtrack to Sean Penn's movie based on Jon Krakauer's book about Chris McCandless.

I had also been thinking alot about the lives of these men and how they, like me, related so deeply to McCandless. Kindred spirits. How my life and loves and soul and experiences and inspirations shared so much with his, and theirs...and all the writer's and thinkers, like Henri David Thoreau, that inspired, inspire all of us to seek meaning, understanding, enlightenment in the Wild inside and out. And how we get lost.

Oh, how we get lost. 

The innocence. The father and son. The lesser known adventures in the Southwest down to Mexico, in a KAYAK! The sporadic jobs, on a farm in South Dakota, a McDonald's in California. The relationships, and the effect he had on the people he met, especially the old man, Ron. The inner longing discovery journey courage. The thirty years... The book, movie, the songs. 

His letters and journals. Up to his death. His final words. The desperation. After all his hubris and dissatisfaction. Starving alone in the middle of nowhere. I've been there. Laid out. Vomiting bile. Crying. Lost. But I didn't die. 

This book tells the story. Better than the movie, but the movie is very beautiful, made, like the book, with all the support and input from family and friends, which is weird and can't be easy. But the book, like most books, is better than the movie. Reading his words. The deeper meaning. The story that Krakauer digs out,the puzzle pieces put together. The movie gives visual ideas of it, and if, like me, you've been there, it's quite beautiful, but the words...his words.. Letters, journals postcards. Primary sources. And his inspirations and relations with the people he met, and the conflicting one with his parents. He was a profound, deep thinker, and also a talented and strong and courageous young every man at a certain stage of life... But Chris McCandless is frozen in time at that stage of life. 
Another aspect of the book not seen in the movie is Jon Krakauer's personal story and how that influenced his desire to find out what happened to McCandless. It would still be a mystery if Krakauer hadn't put all the pieces together and traced McCandless' two year journey into the Wild. Krakauer, like Vedder and Penn and me and many others that Krakauer presents in the book, every man, maybe, had gone through his own similar, but unique, journey into manhood. The rites of passage. His experience, like mine centered on mountain climbing. When I look back on the years in my 20s spent climbing up and down mountains, it's difficult to recall why I was doing all that. What was I looking for? What was I running from? These are the essential questions that Krakauer seeks to answer in Into the Wild. 
The answer to the first question is obviously something inside. It's the interior journey and discovery that leads us on.  
It was strange to read this book again so many years later. I saw Penn's movie again earlier this year, and spent a few months recording my own version of Vedder's soundtrack, but finding and rereading this book was a very different, deeper experience. The movie and the music came out in 2007, at just about the same moment I became a father. I was, and am, in a very VERY different place and time in my life in 2007 and the ensuing years, especially this year, spent recording the songs from the movie. They mean alot to me, but the coincidence of finding this book again, and remembering the 26 year old me buying it in the Chinook Book Shop... Remembering the 22 year old me first reading about Chris McCandless in Krakauer's original Outside magazine article... Remembering that young man, reading about another young man that seemed so similar to me. Full of the vibrant spirit of adventure and discovery, the quest for new, bigger, experience and deeper meaning. Rejecting society's norms, routines, expectations and blazing our own path to higher ground. Journals from those years full of these thoughts. A several years long correspondance, letters(!), sent by post(!), with spiritual friends and companions around the country. Road trips. Homeless. Service to a greater good. Connections to truth and wonder. Helping to heal wounds of others, yet causing pain in hearts of lovers, too. What was I looking for? Where was I going? What was I running from? How did I get here? I could run up and down Pikes Peak in 6 hours. Now I run out of breath walking up a flight of stairs. I prayed with Tibetan monks in the moonlight on the Big Sur coast. Now I drink to stop myself from thinking about things and numb myself to the thoughts. What would Chris McCandless be doing right now if he had made it out of the wild? Is it true that you can take the young man out of the wild but you can't take the wild out of the man? I don't think so. I'm as tame and domesticated and civilized as everyone I used to look down upon. Soft and stupid and sad. I really wonder what McCandless would be like now, if things had gone differently. 

I went back into that wild inside. That person I used to be. And for the first time in my life, I didn't get the job I wanted. To want and not be wanted is a feeling the young only think they know. To be left in a world you've made, so alone. Where did I go wrong? Well that's actually easier to answer. I had an affair. Betrayed my family. Then let every future fall through my hands for gloomy grief and hesitancy to ruin her life as I had done mine. I just lost everything. My way. And can't get anything back. Can't start again. Can't even get a job. Old  broken, sad and alone. It's so difficult to be positive to be a person, to be a father... With feelings like these. Dreams, haunting, of the man I wanted to be, the love she found in me, the life that couldn't be. This is my bus in Alaska. The end of my road, and why didn't I take that other path. She said no. 

And now I can't get back. Can't even get hired for this shit job I hoped would be a step in a better direction. Stuck in the mud, butterfly. Look away. Avoid all and any connection to the love we made. Fly away. Delete. Erase. Pretend it didn't happen. You're happy and healthy. Not me. Good for you. I'm a broken sociopath. My family is broken. My physical and mental health. My mom crying, asking why. My sister, the messiah, trying to save me. My father just reminding me of years lost and how sometimes it just feels like destiny. The look in my child's eyes. The tragedy I've made. But, God, I wasn't alone. Why am I so alone now? Everyone has gone. And still, dreams, crazy dreams and seeing you on the street, stopping in my path to go back and see if it really wasn't you. It wasn't you. You're thousands of miles away, and everything is ok. Free of consequences. 

With all this in my head, I got in the car and hit the road. On the Road like Jack Kerouac, getting lost everyday. Searching, again, for bigger places where I can feel small and less sad, and have a reason, exterior space, for this loneliness inside. The world is burning, fucked beyond repair. People so stupid it's impossible to understand. What have we done to the earth? What am I doing to myself? Does she think of me.  Drive, sing, smoke, drink, read, sleep, eat, repeat. For days into weeks. One day, in San Sebastián, I drank 20 beers. I know this because a there are 20 in a pack of cigarettes, and I smoked one with every beer. I tried to body surf the big waves, on the opposite shore from Narragansett, where I was a few weeks before. Then bought a bottle of wine. Then fell asleep on the beach and woke up in the dark, covered in sand, sand in my mouth. I swam, found my car and slept again until the sun turned it into an oven and I woke up in puddles of sweat needing to vomit, but only tears would come out. So I started the car and drove away, another day. I was being pulled north, to Brittany, but turned into the mountains instead. Just getting lost. Looking for myself, under this soft, sick flesh I've fed to numb the pain inside. Under starry skies. And the whole ride, all the time, every song, every thought, every word of invented conversations in my mind, every memory, every hope, every place, every fucking thing... You.
So, I don't know, no one can know, what Chris McCandless would be doing now had he made it out of the wild of his youth. I hope he wouldn't be as hopeless as me. That's the word that keeps coming to me, hopeless. All that hope we had in younger, happier, healthier days, laid to waste. We should be in Ibiza. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s