‘IMAGINATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN KNOWLEDGE’ – ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955)
Into The Wild, by John Krakauer was a short read, it doesn’t take a lot of room on the shelf, but there are treasures within that belay it’s small size. A friend recommended the book to me about 4 years ago, and gave me a short synopsis of the story. I remember it well, because I had just finished reading: ‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’ by Aron Ralston, and I was telling him about it.
He immediately told me that I would like ‘Into the Wild’. Now, I find it in the used section of a local favorite bookseller.It is not a glorification of a man who failed, it is not overly critical, nor is it unemotional. Rather, it is the oft questioning watcher, written by a man who never met his subject, but who somehow connects to Christopher McCandless.Told in muse, and memory, by those who knew him, and those who think that they did, stitched together by the ponderings of the author and quotations from Thoreau and others, it brings one down to the place where understanding why a well educated young man would up and abandon every vestige of society and live a vagabond existence in Alaska.
The debate that raged over McCandless demise is secondary to the passions that drove him, and the side story of his impact upon those he came into contact with along the way. I wonder what would have happened to him had he lived though his ‘Great Alaska Adventure’ and returned (as he apparently planned) to society. Would he be known – some ten+ years later as another wilderness wanderer turned writer? (Another Peter Jenkins perhaps.)
Unknown to me at the time of purchase/reading; a movie of the same title had been made. ‘Inspired by the true story’ is the tag line. I watched the movie, and though I enjoyed it, this is not a review of the film, but of the book. The Silver Screen takes liberties with the story-line. Weaving romance through it, as only Hollywood can do. But I hope that the movie doesn’t ruin the story. It is not a grand and great adventure, this is fundamentally a tragedy. This was an intelligent and caring young man, he went into the wilds of Alaska one day, and simply never came back.
I would have liked to meet Chris, I think he would have been interesting conversation, and though we would disagree about a great many things, I think in the end we would have been friends. I too feel the wanderlust urge from time to time, but like most, I seldom really venture far from the world. I keep close to electricity and internal combustion engines. Some days I wonder what kind of changes an adventure like the 2 year tramp that McCandless embarked on would yield in my life. I am far too comfortable in my 21st century existence. In that thought; I give a hearty hey-ho to Chris’s ideals and adventuresome spirit.
Read the book, and failing that: watch the movie, then read the book.The debate that raged over McCandless demise is secondary to the passions that drove him, and the side story of his impact upon those he came into contact with along the way.
The damps of autumn sink into the leaves and prepare them for the necessity of their fall; and thus insensibly are we, as years close around us, detached from our tenacity of life by the gentle pressure of recorded sorrow. W.S. Landor (1775 – 1864)
I read that quote, once, twice; ten times. I wonder what unspoken grief pressed his hand to the parchment to pen those lines? How often he must have felt the ‘damps of autumn’ seeping into his soul, and felt a heaviness of step, and weary bones?
Face-to-face with his own mortality; the author bleeds ink to his page. Now nearly 150 years after his death, I read those lines, and think I know what was going on in his soul: Are we ‘detached from our tenacity of life’ merely by age, or as Landor wrote: ‘by the gentle pressure of recorded sorrow’ ?
I sense a deep rift between life, and the prospect of death, as though he is weighing the cost, and the benefits of continuing despite the toil and pain. When we are young, we have that sharp ‘tenacity’ to hold on. The very concept of youth is wrapped up in a veracity to live, and a feeling of immortality.
The older we are; the less death seems a specter to be fought, and more it seems an old friend to be embraced.
Coyote Soul, Raven Heart: Meditations Of A Hunter Wanderer stands easily in the company of other Nature Philosophical works as Ogburn’s ‘The Winter Beach’, Beston’s Outermost House, and yes even ‘Walden’ by Thoreau.
Like these other books; the subject and content of ‘Coyote Soul, Raven Heart’ is not easily distilled into a few words, Reg’s book is both about the experiences of hunting in the wilds of northwestern Pennsylvania, and contemplation of a persons place in the larger world. It deals with the small experiences and choices in life, and also embraces the larger issues of purpose, and hope, and despair, all the while not losing sight of the natural world tying all these things together.
It is a verbal salve on the soul; where the decision not to use a firearm for hunting represents more than just a choice of tools to take a trophy; but rather a philosophy of life.
There is no traditional narrative, but rather bits and pieces that at first seem random and scattered like so many leaves, but pick through them; and see the path obscured underneath, and they link together and form an understanding of nature; and of mystery.
This book is about the technique and skill of Traditional Bowhunting as much as ‘Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance’ is about degreasing a carburetor, but as ‘Zen’ may make you cross the country on motorcycle, so does ‘Coyote Soul, Raven Heart’ make you yearn to throw off your polyester gym shorts, and don buckskin and take bow in hand to commune with the streams and stones.
I am surprised that I was unaware of this book for so many years. This book is considered one of the quintessential pieces of nature writing. Though the natural world is a great passion of mine, and in retrospect- some of the books I own reference The Outermost House, I had never picked up a copy until a week ago. The subject is unassuming, and simple: A year spent on the great beach of Cape Cod.
The author indeed did not set out to write a book, but merely wanted to take a short two week vacation in his newly constructed beach house. This turned into a solitary adventure that would forever mark his literary career. Henry Beston has a way of wording a sentence that leaves it marked in the mind long after the book is closed.
His descriptions are not laboriously detailed, even sparse at times, but he artfully gives exactly he information needed to render the scene on the imagination. It was a pleasant book to read, and though written in the mid 1920s, the English was not archaic or dated. I finished it in a little over 2 days of sparse reading.
Only Beston could write an entire chapter just about the sound of the surf on the sand, and not come off as strained. I could almost hear it for myself. This is a true classic and ‘The Outermost House’ should be on the ‘read next’ list for anyone who loves nature and the feel of the sand between the toes.