Every since I heard about Wild by Cheryl Strayed I have been drawn to and at the same time hesitant to read it. My love of adventure and the healing power of nature puts the memoir right in my wheelhouse. However, having lost my mother a few years ago I didn’t feel up to the challenge. For those of you who haven’t heard read the book or seen the movie, it’s a true account of a woman’s walk back to grace on the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed finds herself lost in a sea of bad decisions after her mother dies and so hopes to find redemption by hiking over 1,100 miles alone.
I first picked up the book a few years ago when my own grief was still very fresh. I found myself unable to get past even the first chapter. However, in true book magic it found me again when I was ready for it. Recently I came across a copy in a friend’s library and knew instantly it’s what I needed. I dove head first into the tome and after a lot of tears and sleepless nights, I was able to find my own bit of redemption.
Strayed wounds mirrored my own and through her words I was able to see that not only was I not alone but that there was hope in surrender. One does not have to be motherless however to enjoy her unique form of genius. She so deftly paints the picture of her journey that you cannot help but feel you are right alongside her on the trail. Her descriptions of the surrounding natural beauty and fellow trail mates is so complete, it’s easy to forget you are experiencing it secondhand. By the time the book ends and she has made it to the Bridge of the Gods, we as the reader are left with a sense of our own completion.
It also reads as a how-to and witty primer for any would be thru-hikers itching to carve out their own path. While she is not shy about her perceived lack of experience, she gives an accurate portrayal of the high peaks and low valleys of long distance backpacking. She highlights the camaraderie with other hikers and the unsung heroism of trail angels. Moreover, it’s a story of the strength and challenges of being a woman in a male dominated world. She does not seek a man to validate her, in the end she saves herself. She becomes whole through the act of discovering herself. In the end, Wild is a poetic dark night night of the soul; perfect for any reader who’s quiet voice continuously whispers ‘more.’
“It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That is was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.”