A Return fom the “Wild”

Antoine Gara

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This weekend, I went to see Sean Penn’s adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book Into the Wild. The book was an extension of an essay Krakauer submitted to Outside Magazine in 1993. The article chronicled the puzzling journey of college grad Chris McCandless as he marched across the United States and into the Alaskan wilderness with few provisions. From its first telling in Outside Magazine to its current movie adaptation, McCandless’s story resonates in deep and varied ways with audiences. The story charms and it offends; it forces a spectrum of judgments about the ambition and the weight of Chris’s odyssey. Chris searched the extremes of his being for meaning and his experiences touches us. But all that has changed.

When I read the book, I was a high school senior who trusted in the act of intellectual pursuit. I liked Chris because he embodied the idealism I believed so strongly in, and I respected the amount of research he had done to that end. As a college senior, his idealism didn’t impress me as much as his kinship with the environment. I was more aware of Chris’s abundant love for the outdoors and his attempt at sustainable living. In these times of globalization, self-reliance is kind of out of style.

Chris was first introduced to America in 1993, and now it’s 2007. Early readers of the book wondered whether it was stupid to go to Alaska without sufficient provisions, and they judged the morality of his abandonment of society. It was a call of the wild, and we didn’t know whether to pick it up on our fancy landline phones. There seemed to be an immense border cutting between Chris in the wild, and us everyday citizens of America. Today, the border seems more fluid.

For better or worse, it is obvious now that Chris made us all more aware of our estrangement from the natural world and showed us a way to live under its rule, at least momentarily. The tragedy of Chris’s story is that if he had survived he could have been an incredible ambassador for us all. Yet his death made him a martyr— an embodiment of the fissure between nature and society.

That is why seeing Chris again made me glad that I am not an absolute intellectual and continue to live an active life. Every once in a while, when I put my books down, I realize how much they enrich what I do. In 2007, it is clear that Chris died because he could not find a way to channel his immense love of nature and his intellectual pursuits in a productive way. The best environmentalists and intellectuals create a kindred relationship between corridors of intellectual discovery and the physical neighboring world. It is a shame Chris is not around to see that this practice is becoming increasingly popular in our modern society.

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