Sadly and reluctantly, I just finished reading Wild, a memoir by Cheryl Strayed. I first heard about this book after reading an essay by the author in The Sun magazine. Captivated by the engaging writing style and subject matter (grief over the untimely death of the writer’s mother), I put a hold on the book at the local library. Months later, I finally got notification that the book was mine for the borrowing. I picked it up that same day and then had trouble putting it down until I very slowly turned the last page.
Ms. Strayed was in her early twenties when her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. One of three children, the author was the only one who didn’t flee when her mother became ill. In fact, she was almost constantly with her, doing all she could to help. Nothing did help, however, and her mother soon passed. Without her mom, the anchor of the family, the author spiraled into a long period of depression and reckless behavior. She lost contact with her stepfather and siblings. Except for the hapless, kind man she had married too young and couldn’t stay faithful to, and a few friends, she seemed to be dangerously adrift.
About four years after the death of her mother, Ms. Strayed decided that she needed to try to reclaim her old self, the kind of person she used to be, the real her, the one who would have made her mother proud. It was then that she impulsively decided to hike an 1100-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail – alone.
It would be one thing for an inexperienced hiker to attempt this trek with the help and companionship of someone who knows the ropes. It’s something entirely different to go alone, and – forgive me for saying this – to be a woman alone in the wilderness. There are so many considerations, such as how to prepare for all kinds of weather, and how to avoid dangerous wildlife including mountain lions, bears, and rattlesnakes. What about serial killers? The author actually considered the latter, but didn’t let fear of this or anything else stop her. And what about the not-small matter of the backpack? The challenge of keeping the pack’s weight down was a never-ending battle. Ms. Strayed would even throw out pages of books she had read the night before to try to lighten the load, but it was still more than half her body weight.
I am not one to ruin a book for the next reader, and this one is so worthwhile that I will stop giving details right now. Let me just say that as much as I appreciate the outdoors and a nice, long walk, for me to give such a ringing endorsement to a book about hiking says a lot. Perhaps it’s because this memoir is so much more. Ms. Strayed has hit upon some universal and profound truths about love, familial relationships, and grief. There are sprinklings of jaw-dropping wisdom throughout this magnificent story. If I had known what I know now, I would have bought the hardcover the day it hit the stores, instead of waiting for the library. Now, what I would really like is my own copy, signed by the author.
For interviews with the author and the essay that was the seed of the memoir, visit these sites: