On Our Shelves Now
“Grief doesn’t have a face.” So much so that others may not see it even at the moment you wear it most completely. That same grief can create within you the need to smash things up: most of all yourself. To knock yourself about and then grind yourself down to something more elemental so that you can finally get to a place from which to build yourself back up again.
The Pacific Crest Trail, for Cheryl Strayed, is both the completion of her grief-wrought self-destruction and the place that she begins, step by aching step, to forge herself together again. And Wild, her account of her summer spent on the PCT, is a compelling account of both her personal and physical journey. Strayed moves back and forth from her moments on the trail to the experiences that brought her there with ease and care. “The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods,” she says after her mother’s death, and she leads us through both that emotional wilderness and the PCT wilderness of rattlesnakes, black frogs, stray bulls and snow slides, as a seasoned guide.
Those familiar with my staff picks at the store will know I don’t usually recommend your typical bestsellers. I picked up Wild because, as a backpacker, I was interested in the experience of a woman solo-hiking the PCT. One of the book’s strengths is the way in which it captures the internal mental and emotional life of the solo backpacker: the repetitive loops of mind and way in which physical weariness translates into mental weariness, how the ‘away’ of the trail that you hope for your mind is always different from what you expect, a different form of ‘away’ from oneself than you can find in any other form of vacation. Strayed also avoids the strained nature descriptions one is likely to find in much writing about the outdoors, which keeps the story moving, and reminds us how, lost though we may be, stepping into the wild is always such a human encounter, a place where we find ourselves as much as anything else.