High Plains Drifter

Monday, June 14, 2010

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer


Two days ago I finally finished reading Jon Krakauer's Into The Wild. I read the first five or six chapters at a bookstore in Driggs, Idaho; I finished reading it here at the public library in Dubois, Wyoming. I liked the book a lot. Eventhough, the death of Chris McCandless was a tragedy, I believe that the two years of his life before his death were redeeming. He experienced more in two years than most people experience in a lifetime. He lived "deliberately" as Henry David Thoreau would have said.

Krakauer writes extensively on his own life and experiences. Krakauer was trying to draw a parallel between his strained relationship with his dad and Chris McCandless' difficult relationship with Walt McCandless. When McCandless found out about his dad's other wife and children, it seemed like he had been living a lie--maybe McCandless felt he was illegitimate: it wounded him deeply. This deep wounding partly drove him into the wild, onto the edge, the fringes of society.

The main reason McCandless hitchhiked, rode freight trains and ended up in the wilderness of Alaska was to prove to himself that he could survive on his own. Krakauer writes of his own mountain climbing experiences; he was young and he wanted to prove to himself that he could climb the mountain and survive some near-death experiences.

At first glance, I thought, how does mountain climbing compare with hitchhiking? Isn't it much more dangerous to climb mountains than to hitchhike? At second glance, people die climbing mountains and people die hitchhiking the highways of the world. Mountain climbers explore and hitchhikers explore: they explore new geographical territory and terrain and they explore their own limits in difficult environments.

McCandless was obviously a very well-read young man. I liked the quotes of various writers at the beginning of each chapter in Into The Wild. McCandless left a deep and lasting impression on many people in his travels. Ron Franz, the old guy McCandless met in southern California, was especially touched by his life. I don't see any evidence that McCandless had a relationship with Jesus Christ, but he did believe in God.

When a man of ninety-five dies, people say that he lived a long life and that it was time for him to go. When a young man like McCandless dies at the age of twenty-four, we say it was a tragedy that he died so young. Tragedy is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, I would rather that McCandless had survived his ordeal in the Alaskan wilderness, but he lived more in twenty-four years than some people would live in two hundred years. People have and will learn from McCandless' life and death. It is not how long you live your life, but it is the quality of the life you lived that is important.

People will be reading and writing about McCandless' life for years to come. I saw the film Into The Wild for the first time last summer; the cinematography is beautiful--I liked the movie a lot. The hitchhiking scenes in the movie reminded me of my own hitchhiking experiences: the people you meet on the road, sleeping in the desert, the odd jobs you get to make a little money. I may have hitchhiked more miles than McCandless, but he rode more freight trains than I ever will.

I was hitchhiking through Belle Fourche, South Dakota a couple of years ago and this lady picked me up. She told me that she and her boyfriend picked up McCandless while he was hitchhiking through South Dakota back in 1992.

I believe the Lord wanted me to read Into The Wild for a reason. There are similarities and differences between my life and McCandless' life. I did a lot of exploratory hitchhiking back in 1986 and 1987, but since 1996, my hitchhiking has been God's will for my life--this is my work: obeying the Lord on the road.

Genesis 47: 9: "And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage."

Jacob's pilgrimage ended when he was one hundred and forty-seven years old (Genesis 47: 28); Chris McCandless' pilgrimage ended when he was twenty-four; I am still a pilgrim on this earth.

"When the Stranger says: 'What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?'
What will you answer? 'We all dwell together
To make money from each other'? or 'This is a community'?
And the Stranger will depart and return to the desert.
O my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger,
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions."

--T.S. Eliot

Matthew 8: 20: "And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head."


Chris McCandless Revisited
Fairbanks Bus 142
Into the Wild (2007) (Tragedy, Epiphany and Closure)
A Critical Review of Into the Wild

1 comment:

  1. "So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

    — Chris McCandless


    "I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!"

    — Chris McCandless' journal from Alaska

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