“Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair…” ― Susan Polis Schutz

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).

Appalachian Trail, Summer 2009

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

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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.

Horn Reviews @ Tumblr – Thanks THERUMPUS.NET as well.

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.

Illustration by Daniel Horowitz @ The NY Times

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.

20 thoughts on ““Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair…” ― Susan Polis Schutz

  1. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    I think the book you should have read was Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into the Wild’.

    I read lots of comments from people who raved about this book and I am sure for some who would never dream of doing what she did, it was quite a ride – but I also picked up some of what you say reading between the lines and decided not to go there, there are other journeys to read that will give something more to a reader like me, I find her story quite sad and would find it too much to have to experience it through reading.

    • Cassie says:

      I loved Into the Wild and Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven (that’s my favorite one). They’re all great – he tells the best journey stores and gives just the best and most important information to tell that story. Even his tidbits about characters draw you in so easily. I would never say a bad thing about Krakauer.

      It was really sad – her journey. I wasn’t prepared for the pity party in the beginning, or the way she handled herself throughout. I was really disappointed. I’m sure that came off in this review.

      I definitely needed more AND LESS, you’re right.

  2. booksfromthelaundryroom says:

    I would have to sit at the computer all day just to write like you…seriously, the stuff you write about, what you say about the “stuff”, your writing style…I want to be you! (I’m not ashamed of that…mostly.)

    • Cassie says:

      Hahaha its okay I tweets at authors all the time telling them I want to be them and usually get no response so I know exactly how you feel and couldn’t possibly think it was creepy like some people would.
      I just write what I feel. I’m sure you’re writing is just as beautiful when its honest. That’s the best kind of writing.

  3. Bea says:

    This was an honest review, and I am always glad that you tell it as you see it. Hiking can be such a personal event, even if the hike is just 2 miles around your neighborhood. There is a “Sacrament of the Moment” that is so peaceful.
    Also, I just love that mountain picture of you. Since I am your Mother, I have seen it before, but it still moves me.

  4. grainsifter says:

    Maybe I read your post too fast (saving it for when I get to the part which made you so mad in “Wild”), but it wasn’t until your mama pointed it out that I realized that was you, not Cheryl Strayed in the photo!

    You are, as always, full of brave and heartfelt words.

    • Cassie says:

      Oh good, I’m glad you didn’t read on because I want to know what you think when you finish the book.

      And yea, I probably look like she did most of her journey. Haha.

  5. angela says:

    (okay, first, so ticked that Oprah picked this since I did read it WAY before and I’ve got standards, i.e. no O book club!)

    moving along…
    Strayed did say that she had written in a diary during her hike, ergo, the only way she could recollect the instances. I’m not saying that she didn’t take liberties in the conversations, however, that is such a sticky wicket because how does one ever write a memoir with dialogue after a time???

    Agreed: I was a mess reading about her mother & the horse. I lost a dear friend to cancer and was right there with her as she entered that hospital. I’ve done that walk…to say goodbye…you should have seen me, I was sobbing before she even hit the front door, I just knew she was gone. As I type this my heart still feels heavy recalling her words, which tells me she poured her soul into those two sections.

    Disagree: Strayed is a sexual being; we are all wired differently. My read of her words was that she didn’t seek the touch of another to help her justify who she was, or hoped to become,…she just was being Cheryl. How old was she at the time…early 20s? I’d say she was seizing the day and proclaiming her independence.

    I’m pretty close to Cheryl’s age, ergo, I know how perspective changes with each passing decade. Her voice in Dear Sugar carries the weight of a new life, two children, and twenty years. Her voice in Wild was tinged with today’s wisdom, but still laughed with youth.

    We all walk alone, some of us just have a lot more hands ready to pick us up if we fall. I read her as brave to recant the trail (trial) of trying to find home. ~

    • Cassie says:

      I’m just not sure people.record direct conversations in their diary. I may wrote quotes from my day or something funny someone said but not full dialogue. Plus, she was too tired to even read most of the time so I wonder how vast that diary is.

      I definitely loved (that doesn’t feel the right word) the sections of her mother and I think it is because I could feel her in them. Sometimes it was hard for me to find her voice on the trail.

      I probably couldn’t disagree more. I definitely see her as a sexual being and that’s fine with me but there were too many indicators in her writing for me to think she made that decision out of her own sexual prowess and not something else. I am so glad we can have this conversation though because I was emailing people I knew who had read it and no one really felt a thing about most of it and I was having all of these mixed emotions so I definitely need someone to actually book club this book with me, haha.

    • Cassie says:

      I’ve been thinking about your comment all day and mulling it over. I definitely agree she’s a sexual being and we are all wired differently and I had a fear that my response would lead to people thinking that I think sex is wrong or shouldn’t be used recreationally. I think what bothered me about that here with wilco tshirt guy is that everytime Strayed used sex it was an escape tool, or am excuse tool or something that wasn’t healthy recreational sex. Does that make sense or am I digging a deeper hole?

      • angela says:

        Please know I’m not judging your comment at all…I’m just offering another reader’s POV. I was talking about this today, thinking it through, and truly believe that if I were 15 years younger my thoughts on her actions would probably be different.
        I really don’t think she was escaping, I think she was embracing her freedom. Remember how she had sexy lingerie in her last box? Or the condoms? I think she felt power in her sexuality. In a way it is akin to a feminist declaration since it is no different than what guys do all the time.. hunt and conquer. She used drugs to fill a void. I truly don’t think she was one of those girls who sought sex to feel love or approval. Does that make sense?
        …then again,I could be completely wrong on my interpretation of events!

      • Cassie says:

        You’re right about the lingerie. I think I would have totally done that. Maybe were both right haha! Maybe on sections she was one thing and in others another. I think I would have a totally different opinion if she wasn’t cheating on Paul in the beginning. I think I would definitely agree with you, easily if I hadn’t read that.

  6. twenty-something says:

    What a great review! I love how you’ve tied the book into your own experiences, it makes for a very interesting read. Thanks for the nice comment on my page and I look forward to following your blog. :)

  7. di @ life of di. says:

    I read the introduction while looking around a bookstore last week. I wanted to buy the book but it was $25 – after buying on Amazon, I can’t bring myself to spend more than a few dollars for a book. Anyways, I have this on reserve at my library and CANNOT wait to read it. Thanks for your review, as always. :)

    • Cassie says:

      I hope you absolutely adore it. I always go to the bookstore, realize how expensive books are, and then search it until I find a library near me that carries it. I love the interlibrary loan system where I just have to sit back and wait for a glorious books. YAY! I am currently reading nothing so I need to pick something up. Oops.

  8. Erin Lyndal Martin says:

    I’m almost finished with this and still forming an opinion. In a way, I want to champion it because of what *kind* of book it is, if that makes sense. Even though my own memoir-in-progress admittedly casts myself as a victim in many ways, I do want to see more memoirs by women that aren’t about being a victim, that aren’t about abuse or eating disorders or men. So I am very happy that a book like Wild can get written, published, celebrated as it has been.

    That is the main thing that I think about Wild. I mentioned my own memoir earlier mostly in the interest of full disclosure, but also because right now every memoir I read is from the POV of someone who is writing one. And I am realizing the gap in the things that happen to us and how we choose to present them. Even though laying one’s life out bare in a book is a choice, I find myself holding off on judging the writer’s decisions more and trying to stick to judging the book by its writing more as well.

    Which isn’t to say that I am not affected by events people put in their memoirs, of course. I am. I feel like I know someone after I’ve read their memoir, whereas I don’t with fiction. But, yes, trying to keep the focus on the writing more. Or at least look at memoirs from a craft perspective–I’m always interested to see what details a memoirist hides or minimizes and which ones are brought into the light. I think Strayed hides a bit about her promiscuity after her mother’s death, though she covers that in another essay. I did want to see her reflect more on her time doing heroin with Joe, as I felt like she was a little hasty in stopping exploring that.

    Finally, I leave you with this article of things she hated to cut but did in the end. I like wondering how they would have changed the reading experience of the text.

    http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/7-Things-That-Didnt-Make-it-Into-Wild-by-Cheryl-Strayed

    • Cassie says:

      I think talking about craft and structure with memoir is great, but the whole reason a memoir is published or gets published is due to the content. We pick up memoirs to find redeeming qualities in ourselves in the people that we’re reading. We read them to see the other side of an opinion we’ve held for decades. We read them because we’re fascinated by the subject whether that be the 34th President of the US, or someone who was wrongfully convicted of murder in the 1980’s. I think I look at craft, structure, plot more when I discuss literature, or narrative writing. I think it’s unfair of me to see that I read memoir because of a focus on writing. I read memoir because I want to know more, I want to gleam something from what this person has to say about their childhood, their time in War, their experience in some life situation that I’ve found myself or I haven’t found myself.

      This was my gut reaction to the book. All of my blogs, or most of, are a gut reaction. I have since read Tiny Beautiful Things and I’m quite obsessed with Strayed. In Tiny Beautiful Things she’s everything I hope to be in a woman and more. I want to buy that book for my whole family. Other things in the memoir fell short for me and a lot of people are judging me on my judgment of her promiscuity. At the time I wrote this, that’s how I felt. (I’m sorry if this came off abrasive. I think this deals in my own insecurity of the way I reviewed this book).

      I do find it REALLY interesting what you say about what a memoirist decides to share and what they decide to hide away, shorten, or make seem insignificant. Something really huge in your life can be turned into a few sentences in your memoir if you don’t really feel the need to dive in and “go there.” I would be really interested to read your memoir just from a stranger’s perspective (even though I’m a total stranger to Strayed even after reading her Rumpus advice column for so long). I think you should write some sort of essay on how you believe people craft memoirs, that could be really spectacular to read.

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