Saw Wild New Year’s Day. (Review in the works. Preview: Very good. Go.) Seeing it did not make me want to hike the Pacific Coast Trail as Reese Witherspoon’s character does in the movie. Reading the book the movie’s based on, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, in which Strayed recounts her hike up the PCT, did not make me want to hike it either. Although I could and have happily walked a day away, I mostly travel in circles of no more than a few miles in diameter and I stop to loiter often as I circumnavigate familiar patches of the map of my life. Like Thoreau I’ve traveled a good deal in my own neighborhoods. I’m not a long-distance hiker and I’ve never had much of a desire to go backpacking. Getting around is more to my liking than getting from here to there. Reading the book did remind me that someday I have to see Yosemite National Park and hike around there even though Yosemite features in the book only as a place Strayed regretfully had to by-pass on her hike because of heavy snows on the PCT. Seeing the movie and re-reading the book (which I’m in the middle of doing) did make me miss taking hikes, any hikes of any lengths along any trails, paths, or roads, even just down to the post office. I miss the walks, I miss being able to walk farther than twenty-five yards at a stretch, I miss being outside and in motion, I miss seeing the world as it can only be seen on foot, I miss not simply direct encounters with nature but being in nature, being part of the natural landscape and not as a visitor passing through but as a regular resident. I miss having that to write about. I miss having what Strayed calls “the accumulation of trees” to report on. I miss writing my own version of passages like this:
I forced my feet back into my boots and continued on, ignoring the pain as I ascended past an eerie pair of electrical towers that made other-worldly crackling sounds. A few times throughout the day, I saw Bald Mountain and Grizzly Peak to the northwest---dark green and brown mountains covered with smatterings of scraggly windblown trees and bushes---but mostly I walked in a bushy forest, crossing an increasing number of primitive roads cut with the deep treads of tractors. I passed old clear-cuts that were slowly coming back to life, great fields of stumps and roots and small green trees that stood no higher than me, where the trail became untenable in places, difficult to track among the litter of blown-down trees and branches. The trees were the same species as those I’d hiked past often on the trail, but the forest felt different, desultory and somehow darker, in spite of the intermittent expansive views.
I’ve always missed being able to write that well.
But that’s why we’re lucky to have books, like Wild, which you don’t have to read before you see the movie, but which you might like to before or after you see or saw it or whether or not you will or you did anyway. It’s available in paperback and for kindle at Amazon.