© Another Day in the Country
I just finished reading the book “Wild,” written by Cheryl Strayed, which has now come out in movie form. I finished the book and then saw the movie, in that order.
While this column isn’t really about book or movie reviews, I was glad that we’d seen the film — meaning it was instructive, thought provoking. We discussed it all the way home from Salina, as we often do.
The story is about a young college girl who goes “over the deep end” (so to speak) after the untimely death of her mother. After a series of extremely bad choices, she decides, on a whim, to go on a thousand-mile hike from Southern California to Oregon. Her semi-coherent reasoning seems to be that if she can do the Pacific Coast Trail, she’d have lots of time to think and could straighten out her life in some way. So, she embarks on this journey in a rather unprepared fashion.
My sister said she’d spent her time, sitting there in the dark, hollering in her head at the heroine on the silver screen, “Oh, stop! Don’t do that! It’s really, really, really foolish!”
A good movie always provokes discussion. All the way home from Salina, my sister and I talked about the subject of being wild and the ramifications, who we knew that had done it, how it turned out, and when we’d done it ourselves. In the process, I was reminded that one person’s life-changing decision is often sheer stupidity to an onlooker.
My Dad didn’t set out to walk a thousand miles, but he did make a rather life-altering decision when he was 25 and the Depression still had a choke-hold on Kansas. He decided to go to college in Nebraska and become a minister. Most everyone around Ramona thought he was crazy. That decision not only changed his life, but mine.
Strangely, in my fifties I did the “wildest” thing I’d ever contemplated. I packed up the Honda, left California, my home in the Napa Valley, and set out for who knows what back in Ramona. When Dad set out for Lincoln, he wasn’t alone. Mom and I were along for the ride. When I headed back to Ramona, my sister came with me. I’ve never had the nerve to set out on some wild adventure all by myself.
After I’d seen the movie, I came home and picked up that book again. I wanted to write down a quote from the very last page where she’d summed up her story, talking about all the good things that happened to her in the years after this very reckless (in my opinion) thousand-mile trek on the Pacific Coast Trail. “It was all unknown to me then,” she said, “everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know…. It was my life — like all lives, mysterious, irrevocable and sacred.”
This life of hers, that she appeared to squander in a time of grief, turned out very well, it seemed. I read the acknowledgements at the end of the book. “Talk about a fairytale ending,” I said to my sister. “She finds a good husband, has two lovely children, writes a book about the adventure, it’s made into a movie, and she’s pretty much set…” Maybe the lesson is to take some chances, my friends. When was the last time you did something outrageously wild?
As I think about our wild journey to Ramona in 2000, I remember thinking, in the beginning, that it would last a few months, maybe a year in Kansas, and then we’d be back to whatever we were doing before in California. And here we are 15 years later, still hiking. We didn’t declare an END! We never said, “This is it. This is how far we will go, and we’re done.” And since we haven’t called out the destination, the story isn’t finished, so I guess we can’t go into the happily ever after part of the story. We’ll just keep stepping through another day in the country.
I keep wondering, though, if you were writing a book about some wild, incredible, sometimes lonely, financially insecure, journey you’ve taken, what would your happy ending be?