June 24, 2007
Into The Wild – Personal Reflections of the Forthcoming Movie
The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir
Sometime ago I remember heckling a friend of mine regarding his passion for hiking. This was in part because I was on some level encouraging him to get into something that potentially might be a bit more physically intensive; as I was, at the time, myself making the effort to spend more time on my mountain bike – not just to get out in the woods more, but to also lose the spare tire that an endless amounts of time, sitting in the dull glow of a computer monitor can earn you.
Well – that friend has hence moved to Florida; and I’m not sure how much hiking he gets done down there – but I myself have been spending more time thinking about how much I’d like to be exploring a trail somewhere either on my trusty Trek or merely accompanied with nothing more then a set of good hiking boots.
I got out of the city a few days ago – when my brother asked me if I wanted to go look at canoes. I thought that the water might be running on the upper Ocoee, and even if it wasn’t – the fresh air and a good book on hiking trails to potentially be picked from among the offerings at the gift shop at the whitewater center might be a good acquisition to make.
Standing down by the river, I momentarily envisioned myself tossing my Trio 700w smartphone and my video-enabled ipod into the raging waters in some kind of metaphorical declaration of independence. I decided against the endeavor, as all that fully-charged lithium ion might just shock the living daylights out of some hapless, passing canoeist; and that probably would not be good – let alone the invariable environmental affects that it would probably cause; and such a Ludditesque protestationary statement would surely just leave me disconnected from more then technological society but practicality itself, anyway.
Now that is a big word and a concept that we should all consider from time to time. I have a cousin who spends most of his money on WWII guns and semi-automatics; which he just loves to take out and shoot. To me – anything that would not leave a deer at least partially intact; really is not practical to hunt with, and if you are not using something to at least potentially hunt with, then that’s just not practical. And since I don’t really have a passion for hunting – that that is impractical to the second degree.
But just because I get my meat from a frozen locker at Bi-Lo does not mean that I am terribly disconnected from the concept. Rather – it’s a concept that I am reevaluating and considering – if in being so practical – if I am actually disconnected from practicality itself.
Some of my fondest memories of growing up are getting in the family car and escaping the city for the mountains of West Virginia; getting away to see Grandma and Grandpa in their secluded hideaway, the tiny mountain town of St. George. Once – when we were up there in the Winter; my dad and my grandfather’s brother had to send out a search party to find his whereabouts; the age of cell phones had not quite dawned, and grandpa was ominously late from an excursion to check his traps up on the mountain. And that was where he was – stuck – caught in a ditch in the snowy back ends of his property much to his chagrined thankfulness at being found by my dad. The closest I’ll get stuck while in the business of the procurement of food is getting ‘hemmed up’ in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I don’t really have to be resourceful or take risks to eat; but for generations of my family in those mountains – that was their way of life.
I have a different way of life. I spend my days working with clients and programming their websites and earning a small but honest compensation that most of the time manages to pay for all the overpriced software that is required to do it right, and my nights, punching buttons on lab instruments or sitting at microscope scanning endless fields of monotonous cellular morphology. But I was reminded of something this past weekend when I got out of the city for a few hours.
I remembered a time when I was unencumbered with a job; and rather then counting off the months that I can pay off my Cadillac, I was wondering if there would be enough rain and sunny warm days in the summer remaining that my grandfathers grass would grow to the extent that I could cut it enough of it’s expanse to earn the allotted wage associated with each sweat-inducing mow – to buy a watch for 40 dollars that long ago broke and was discarded. I remember a time when I was not all that popular – in my childhood; the friends I made then; I still have them – and was not burdened by the time constraints imposed by the perpetual maintenance of the relational drama incurred by scores of friends; because I only had a few friends, and most if not all of them were largely social outcasts themselves, so they needed little maintenance time on my behalf as they were used to being by themselves anyway. Most of my time was spent exploring and being “down by the creek;” the land in and around Mouse Creek that lay a few minutes walk away from the home where I grew up. I knew every square inch of that place, and had explored every part of it from where it came out from the town to where it goes far down to what is now the soccer fields and was then the waste water treatment plant. I knew where all the older neighborhood boys stashed their porn magazines; and sometimes succumbed to the practice of restashing it for them; in what I halfheartedly saw as an act of looking out over them and bettering them spiritually by relieving them of their carnal fodder; rather stashing it upon the waters of the creek to be carried down and gradually dissolved into the ever churning waters of the creek and it’s black and brown muck. I even threw a couple down in the sewer’s manholes – they stuck up like grotesquely stunted light lighthouses from the green oceans of grasses, their heavy lids could easily be moved aside to uncap and reveal the dark tunnel that plummeted down into their inky, noxious depths; though I pondered that the depths of each could potentially hold only a given quantity of such reallocated contraband within their limited and constrained space down there at their slimy, not so cavernous bottoms; as I once envisioned an embarrassed city worker pulling up reams of playboys from a constricted drain somewhere to his laughing colleagues. So I discontinued the practice; because they were not suitably destroyed in any irretrievable way down there anyway; only waiting to be possible rediscovered by somebody else; the largest portion of their subterranean floor generally being dry and generally being devoid of the putrescence one might readily assume to be present. But the smell – yes, that was there, to remind you of the nature of the officious oracle and what it served as a conduit for. Once I made the mistake of telling my two younger brothers that I had stashed a number of reams of pruriecent printage down one. They took off and scurried down there faster then I could chase them and toss the volumes of Hustler and like ilk into the waters of the creek, where I should have tossed them to begin with. But that is where I tossed them from that point on. I don’t remember finding many more. Perhaps someone got tired of their stashes being reallocated and found better hiding places – but I was much more interested in finding box turtles then looking at…well; I was tempted to say it – but won’t. I did not need to learn the ins and outs of sexual knowledge from a trashy porno mag – the natural & biological details that served to somewhat satiate my existent curiosity were found in my mother’s nursing textbooks. I slept in the shadow of a veritable oracle of sexual knowledge; deeper and more profound then any 2 bit porno mag could ever aspire to communicate to a pubescent young man such as I.
It seems unjust to spend so much time speaking of sewer manhole’s, unruly brothers, and porno mags in regards to my time down by the creek. There was the time my mother came home, and went downstairs to do laundry and found her utility sink full of swimming box turtles. Or the time that I waded out into the middle of a natural pond, the mud oozing between my feet – just because I could. To this day, I do not understand how I did that and so much else – with all my fingers and toes intact; with so many snapping turtles endemic to the region. I love that place. If I close my mind – I can walk every square inch of it; it is locked away, where no one can take it from me. It is my childhood haunt. My realm, my territory – my dominion.
Somewhere along the way, I learned to be more at home in a classroom, and then later – in front of a keyboard; more so there then laying in the grass breathing in the smell of the mud, the grass, and water that ever tricked across and through them both. Some where along the way, I rationalized that all of that was just a way of dealing with and rationalizing my isolation. That when I was down there I did not have to be practical, I did not have to relate; the creek did not come to me, I came to it. I did not have to wait for it to call me – it called me when I got out from school. It called me when I got out of church. It even called me when I got my homework done and there was nothing of any pressing and urgent nature to be done. Sometimes it was very bold and called me when there were important things to be done. At least my parents knew where I was, generally – or at least the vicinity thereof: somewhere down by the creek; probably by myself exploring.. Somewhere along the line, I ignored its beckon. Somewhere along the line I abandoned my single speed bike for a college backpack and began cracking Biology & Chemistry textbooks. I told myself – that all of that was escapism and that I needed to be practical and spend more time around friends and less around bugs, muck and creek water.
A year or so ago – I snagged my brothers neglected Trek 960 mountain bike and carted it over to Scott’s Bikes. I dropped a few hundred dollars on a full restoration and a collection of equipment that I gradually bought over time; such as the headlamp that I bought the next day – after going through the last leg of the Chattanooga River walk, back to my car, in near impenetrable darkness. Had there been a bum asleep along my trajectory there would have been trouble for us both. I realize that something has been coming back to me in the time that I have spent on my bike. It is not as much my youthful vigor and girlish figure – though I am farther ahead in that endeavor then when I first knocked the dust off of the long neglected 960. I have not quite got my six-pack back – but what I have gotten back – in some determinable measure – is my hearing. I can hear what I had become deaf to. The creek is calling me again. And not just the creek; for among the whispers of voices – I hear the woods – I hear a thousand miles of bike and footpath that I have not yet seen or set tire nor foot tread upon. But I am not going to throw my trio or my ipod in the creek – and this 17 inch Macbook pro would certainly be a gaudy addition to any creek bed itself; but I am reconnecting. I am going back – to being practical.
It is my opinion that not all men are created equal – at least in their hearing of a call to the wild. Those of us who love nature and have romanced her and been under her sway, can acknowledge the potential of an overpowerment of our senses and sensibilities by her enticement. An argument can be made that one can worship the creation – and not the creator; and whereas such a statement might usually be thought to be referring to a reference to the female side of the species, it must be understood to reference the whole of creation. The scripture says that the whole of creation gives testimony to God. Certainly, some from among us find the trappings of that worship something that we can spend a lifetime singing about. Some – it involves giving a lifetime – and a few; it cuts their lifetimes short.
There is always a certain pleasure in reading a book in its publishing infancy – long before it becomes popular or is made into a movie. I remember sorting through an airport bookstore café for a book to read on a forthcoming flight to Jamaica on the first mission trip I ever went on. As the plane took off – I was already 20 or 30 pages into Tom Clancy’s initial creative offering – The Hunt for Red October – and I remember telling my dad, when I arrived back in the States, as I handed him the soon to be increasingly dog-eared first paperback edition to him, “this would make a great movie.”
I thought these same words as I put John Krakaur’s book – Into The Wild into it’s well-deserved place in my ever-expanding library. Into The Wild is the story of Christopher McCandless and his journey from successful college student to traveling vagrant, and the destiny he met in the farthest reaches of the Alaskan Wilderness where his desiccated remains were eventually discovered. It’s a story of more then just removal from society – but one about the call: the call that I know that I am hearing – and the one the Christopher heard. McCandless did not have a smartphone and and Ipod to shuck and in doing so declare his technological independence. Rather he had a drivers license, credit cards and petty cash. When they traced his journey to it’s initial beginning – they found where he had cut them up and burned them. Into The Wild is a cautionary tale of the call of the wild. And while I think that it might be more honorable to die from a nasty bike crash then computer induced obesity; I am trying to be practical in the applications of both my computer and my mountain bike. But while this computer is humming – I hear the wilderness calling…
I will answer.
(I have included a link below to the trailer for the movie, soon to be released, that is written and directed by Sean Penn, which is largely based on both the book and the research that John Krakaur did on Christopher McCandless and his journey into the wild.)