Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Into the Wild

I recently reread Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, the story of Chris McCandless's travels around the country and death in Alaska. I'd read it a couple times when I was younger and still much more romantic, and completely identified with and admired him. I saw his faults more clearly this time but just want to mention a couple paragraphs which struck me.

This quote comes from the unimpeachable source of an assistant manager at a McDonald's where he worked for a while. "I don't think he ever hung out with any of the employees after work or anything. When he talked, he was always going on about trees and nature and weird stuff like that. We all thought he was missing a few screws."

When I read that, my immediate reaction was that it was the story of my work life and human interactions in general. But the fact is that when I worked at a Hardee's in a university town in my early twenties, I did hang out with fellow employees. I always enjoyed spending time outside, but in my early years I was more concerned with human issues than ecological ones. It was only after I gave up on people and society that I started trying to help other species.

"McCandless's apparent sexual innocence, however, is a corollary of a personality type that our culture purports to admire, at least in the case of its more famous adherents. His ambivalence towards sex echoes that of celebrated others who embraced wilderness with single-minded passion--Thoreau (who was a lifelong virgin) and the naturalist John Muir, most prominently--to say nothing of countless lesser-known pilgrims, seekers, misfits, and adventurers. Like not a few of those seduced by the wild, McCandless seems to have been driven by a variety of lust that supplanted sexual desire. His yearning, in a sense, was too powerful to be quenched by human contact. McCandless may have been tempted by the succor offered by women, but it paled beside the prospect of rough congress with nature, with the cosmos itself. And thus he was drawn north, to Alaska."

Again, I was late getting to this perspective though I think I would have been a much happier man if I'd realized it earlier. During that fast food period, I recall that I was starting to fall for a coworker (we'd kissed and decided we would take it slow). A second coworker (in a relationship with another coworker) came by my apartment to give me a ride to a party, and while there asked if I thought she was attractive. At the party, a third coworker, who later told me she was only there because she knew I would be, picked me up, took me home, and we were together for several months. So, no, I can't claim innocence.

If I were to use the cliche of the love of my life, it was a woman I asked to marry me in my mid-twenties (when I was still young enough to believe in such cliches; her own doubts led to a yes followed by a no), who I reunited with several times over the decades we knew each other. In one of our last conversations, she wondered how she had gone from feeling such deep love for me to such strong hatred. It was simple, really. During those decades, I'd given up on relationships because I'd realized that I could never get the depth of connection I was looking for from another person. I had no passion left to offer her. It was only after I gave up on women that I fell in love with the wilderness.

I'm off to Marquette for the holidays. Coming in the next weeks or months will be a very long and open tale of what actually happened at my Yellowstone jobs during my last couple years there and afterward. After I get that out of my system will come a more general look at my four years in the park and park issues.

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