Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Forever ago, I posted a reviewlette on Wild by Cheryl Strayed, but in looking through my notes, I feel I haven't done the book or my experience with it justice. Right now, everyone is all abuzz about the movie version starring Reese Witherspoon to be released in December. Have you seen the trailer yet?

Yeah. I'll probably go see that.

I read Wild one weekend in January while I sat with our dog, Finn. He had had a seizure and a mini-stroke and was essentially immobile for 36 hours. I sat and read and cried, certain I was watching him die. As I read, I began to dream and plan. I remembered how much I wanted to thru-hike in college and how Joel and I considered it again right after we got married and how we hardly ever hike with our kids. How was this possible? A thru-hike being impractical at this time, I decided (capital D Decision, there) we would section-hike the AT. And for once, we actually followed through with my hare-brained plan. Of course, as I noted yesterday, we are just barely getting started, and there are miles to go before we sleep, but I am thankful for Strayed's inspiring book.

I wasn't losing my mother, but the sense of loss that pervades this book was appropriate for that weekend of vigil-keeping. Finn rebounded that weekend, miraculously, and was able to hike with us last summer in West Virginia. Losing him last July was so very hard for me, but it was nothing compared to the loss of a parent, specifically a mother. A lot of the book deals with Strayed negotiating that loss, and rather than rehash some of that here, I will just include the passages that jumped out at me:
The amount that she loved us was beyond her reach. It could not be quantified or contained. It was the ten thousand named things in the Tao Te Ching's universe and then ten thousand more. Her love was full-throated and all-encompassing and unadorned. Everyday she blew through her entire reserve (13)

The breaking of so great a thing should make a greater crack (18)

She was monolithic and insurmountable, the keeper of my life (20)
There is so much beauty and strength here, and man, that idea of blowing through your entire reserve every day is so - everything - to me. I don't. I know I don't do enough for my children. I hold back and devote myself to selfish things all too often. But I love this definition of a mother's love, and I aspire to something like it.

Once Strayed hit the trail, the loss became a story of things found, and there was so much to hold onto. Here are my favorite bits:

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told (51)

Everything but me seemed utterly certain of itself. The sky didn't wonder where it was (142)

This passage where she is in a car, after being on the trail, reminded me of the importance of walking, of reducing our speed and increasing our intimacy with our places:
it still felt to me as if we were moving unaccountably fast, the land made general rather than particular, no longer including me but standing quietly off to the side (145)

And this, THIS, about being in the wild. I couldn't love it more:

It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the world, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way (207).

So, have you read Wild? Are you looking forward to the movie adaptation or dreading it? Do you have a story about a book inspiring some big change in your life? Share, friends!


The Appalachian Trail - Harpers Ferry

On Sunday, we will head a few hours down the road to cover a few miles around the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT). We will stand on Springer Mountain and touch the plaque and maybe see some southbound thru-hikers taking those last, important steps. For us, these will be just a few more early steps in our long walk in the woods. We began our family section-hike of the AT last summer in Harpers Ferry, WV, and because I wasn't blogging at the time, you didn't know. (Question: If you don't blog about it, did it really happen?) Here are few photo highlights to catch you up before we hit the trail again.

We were all there - even the old pup. This was his last hurrah with us as he passed away just a few weeks after we got home. It was important to me that he be there with us as we got started.
Harper Cemetery

Jefferson Rock

Harpers Ferry is considered the psychological halfway point of the trail. Of those over 2,000 miles, we've now covered about 3. Baby steps, y'all. Baby steps.

Sweet times on the trail.


What is an Honest Woman, Anyway?

I'm a book monogamist. With the exception of being able to listen to an audiobook while also reading a paper or digital book, I usually read one book at a time. Here lately, though, I've been slinking around with multiple books at once.

Here's how it happened: I was reading Edith Hamilton's classic Mythology as preparation for the fall. This is a good thing since I have assigned it as required summer reading for my classes. But I've read it before, though years ago, and am already solid on my mythology foundation, so everything was familiar. Dare I say it was a bit boring? (For most of my students, it will be their introduction to these myths, so I'm crossing my fingers. My son loves it and wants me to read him more from it, so there's hope). But it's true. I was bored by my own selection. So, I found myself wanting something else to read at night before bed and chose Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses, which someone recommended to me a life ago. It is good. Quiet and good and chewy and thoughtful, and I will have a full set of thoughts on it soon. That's just two, totally manageable books. One for day/work; one for night/pleasure. All was well.

But then, during our recent travels, I was exploring Oyster some more (lots of good stuff there, y'all.) and found Mark Bittman's Food Matters. It's something I could read while the extended family watched TV in the evenings, and though it is not nearly as well-written or inspiring or ... anything as Michael Pollan and others, it does a fine job outlining some basic concepts, and I will try several of the recipes he includes. In fact, I will probably share more on that front as part of Trish's Cook it Up: A Cookbook Challenge. When I finished that, I needed something I could read on my kindle at night because my better half was getting up ridiculously early to volunteer at the Greenbrier Classic PGA tournament, and I didn't want to keep a light on any later than necessary. So, I turned to my most recent download - Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I knew AKR only as a picture book author, so this book was a surprise to me - on so many levels. Let's just say this book made an honest woman out of me. I dropped all other possible reading options to devour this one whole, and I highly recommend it.

Laughter is a key component in any relationship I embark on, so the fact that I was laughing out loud at the Reader's Agreement before the book even began was a very good sign indeed. And I just kept on laughing - to the point of tears at times. Isn't that feeling tremendous? When you're cheeks hurt a little, and you're trying not to be loud, and your stomach is all tight, and the edges of your eyes get wet? I love that. I also loved the encyclopedia-style brief entries of this book, which still manage to hang together in a thoughtful and cohesive way. AKR creates an odd and comforting intimacy here, and I'm betting I'm not the only one who now feels like Amy (yeah, I call her Amy now) and I could be friends. We have so much in common! We both get anxious about Vending Machines! We both feel strongly about Busy! We both get weird about Clapping along at a concert or other large group event!

But don't take my advice on it. Do what Sherman Alexie suggested and buy this book for your friends. I know I will.