Let me preface this review with this: some of the writing was beautiful in Wild and I do adore Cheryl Strayed on The Rumpus as “Dear Sugar.” I will continue reading that column forever and you should too. Here is a link after you read my ranting (and literally raving) review.
I’m sure Cheryl Strayed had a reason for waiting twenty years to write this journey. Or maybe she didn’t try at all until now. She may have nursed her life back together with tips on coffee and breakfast specials at the diner she inevitably worked at after the trail. I don’t know what happened in twenty years to make her “write down the bones” but it came out in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail after two babies and a marriage to the one man we don’t find in the book. (That wasn’t a sentence filled with judgment, by the way).
While I don’t normally read Oprah books (ever), and I waited for this on the library loan list for over two months before it finally sat on a shelf with my full name stuffed into the open side, I decided to read it because I’ve hiked a trail before. Gasp, you thought I sat behind this computer all day and didn’t explore my world. It’s true, I don’t even own hiking boots anymore (I do own some strappy unwashed mountain girl Chaco’s though) but hiking is at the center of what I dream for myself.
When I imagine myself – by myself – I imagine this rugged, unshaved, heels one day, boots the next kind of gal who goes off exploring territories filled with pine sap, wild horses and nylon tents. I see myself with one long braid laying against my spine, and mud on my shoulders from where I scratched a mosquito bite too hard. If there’s anything I like more than writing and reading, it’s being among the trees.
All our wisdom is stored in the trees - Santosh Kalwar
I believe everything happened in Wild except the conversations. There’s no way a person remembers conversations word for word after twenty years. She definitely used some liberty with these direct quotes. I tend to believe the “wow” words when she met the man she fell in bed with because we always remember those conversations with wild crushes that we never see again. (Usually those conversations don’t quite go our way). They’re welded into our bones or something, repeated day after day, remember that time….
I also tend to believe her conversations with her dying mother because no one can seem to lose those. I wish I could forget the sound of my grandmother’s “do, do, do” from her new stroke dialect, but I want to forever remember it as one of the only sounds I have from her that still works and beats.
Most of the time during Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I wanted to shake Cheryl Strayed.
Honestly, I’m pissed at her idea of redemption.
She didn’t open up her wound to the world or fill it back with the wild of nature – she was still Cheryl Strayed who relied heavily on her sexual desire to point her in a direction. I feel wrong for saying all this like I’ve somehow gone against the entire gender of women. For some reason, it was in that moment that I felt like Strayed didn’t learn a thing while she was on the trail – she was still impulsive, unreasonable, and couldn’t actually stay alone and fix herself without the touch of a man.
I think part of my big issue is that I’ve trusted Cheryl Strayed in her “Dear Sugar” columns for as long as she’s been writing them. On the other hand, I’ve watched one of my closest friends sleep with random men until she felt like she was almost whole again only to go into another despairing month, another down spot, another sleep all day, tissues crumpled all over the bed, never shower kind of month. I watched her give herself away because it’s not true that you can just have sex with someone and not mean it in some deep way (or maybe that’s just my sentimental way of looking at it). I believe in my little heart, bigger than grinch size, that anytime bodies intwine there is a give and a take. You are giving something of yourself to the other person (and it’s more than just heat). Both of these things made it hard for me to read that Cheryl Strayed, in a way, strayed back into her former self. We’ve all abused something, I sound like such a judging-jerk right now, but I so badly wanted her to just take that time to herself; cherish her body for still walking after her feet were blistered beyond quick repair, cherish herself for being able to do this without someone touching those intimate parts of her. She made a point several times to tell readers that he didn’t even ask her a question about herself. That upsets me and clearly it upset her too or she wouldn’t have repeated it several times.
The moments of her mother were the hardest for me. Lady’s (mother’s horse) death made me want to come home again for the moment when my parents put down the cat I had for 15 years, Puss. She’s buried, like my grandfather always wanted to be, under the magnolia in our backyard. Lady’s death was the most profound moment of this entire book for me. I can imagine myself hiding behind a tree, staring at the shot gun, feeling like the boy in Old Yeller just before he put his eye to the scope and measured the exact line to Yeller’s head, Lady’s white star forehead. I could cry now just thinking about that yellow dog, and chestnut horse.
It was the trail that ruffled me as well. I wanted a book that was the diary of her journey. How does it feel to walk alone in the woods for weeks at a time searching out the sounds of water pouring over smoothed rocks. How did people smell when you hugged them. After a walk, my mother always smells like freshly mowed grass. What did the paper of the letter’s she sent look like, what was on the front of the cards from friends all over the country. I think a lot of Wild is sensual, and what the eyes can see, but where’s the heart. Why did a bear only alert a whistle and then we moved on. FACK, a bear, I would have written nine paragraphs on how scared I was and probably peed down my leg, leaving my mark on the trail. Wild is certainly a story of the beauty of hiking, but it isn’t a story about the conscience of hiking. Not once could I picture the image of a mountain range in front of me through Strayed’s writing and believe me I really wanted to see the Three Sisters because that’s the name of one of my favorite bookshops.
I have one memory from the Appalachian Trail that I will never forget. I climbed the highest point of a rock face with three of my girl campers. We were burned, sweating, my hair was matted to my forehead and in a wicked braid where it had stayed for more than four days. I would undo that hair-tie in two more days with kinks where each strand of hairs folded into the other. I showered last at the end of the week so I got to look at myself in the mirror; count my extra freckles, the kinks, how I compared to myself before this hike.
We were warriors on that rock face, staring at the sun. I held my pocket camera snapping photos of them; muddy and gorgeous. We were laughing so much even though we had only eaten granola for the entire day. I had pieces stuck deep in the valleys of my teeth and no brush to push them out.
And my blondest girl said, “let’s pretend we’re on America’s Next Top Model and pose up here.”
She was right. We were nothing but beautiful on those mountain ridges. Maybe nature isn’t about finding what was lost, but about finding the best version of who we are.