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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Into the Wild- Jon Krakauer; My Review

Jon Krakauer's book recounts the life and death of Christopher J. "Alex Supertramp" McCandless, a young man who lived his life and died as he followed the self-chosen a path of an aesthete.

Krakauer's exploration and retelling of how McCandless met his end is interesting and offers plenty of insight - albeit conjectured at some points throughout the rendition - as to how someone chooses to live, the commitment it takes to survive in such a quest and the deadly results when there is a lack of preparation to meet unforeseen challenges.

The author originally wrote about McCandless' death in Outside Magazine and decided to expand on what he wrote, ostensibly to gain a deeper perspective of McCandless; who he was, how he came to his decision to live and the ominous repercussions tied to his Alaska adventure.

I liked the book because it seemed to capture who Chris McCandless was.  More than that, because the book is fraught with literary references culled from the writing of Thoreau, Muir, Stegner and Pasternak plus many more, it is a treasure trove for readers like me.   Into the Wild is a quick, interesting exploration of real world consequences replete with literary references that explore the intellectual sojourns of various writers throughout history that have attempted to speak to Man's search for the meaning of life.

The story was compelling and it would make for great classroom exploration - especially at the high school level where young adults can relate to McCandless' struggle to assert his existence and challenge himself in ways that are at times foolhardy and yet somehow admirable because they are rites of passage.  It is a fascinating study of risk-taking behavior - particularly among young men. While I have heard the term 'arrogance of youth' bandied, it seems more apropos to describe it as, the 'innocence of youth.'

If anything, there are powerful lessons to be gained in Krakauer's book for people of all ages.  While this book serves as testimony to the Human spirit, the sanctity of life and the importance of each and every person's right to live - even if it means dying - according to our own design, it also serves as fair warning that the reason behind such stories has more to do with what not to do, or at least, the relevance of tapping into prior knowledge and becoming informed.  Those who don't, will suffer the consequences because nature - and the world for that matter - is unforgiving of ignorance regardless of whether such ignorance is rooted in lack of knowledge or deliberate rejection of information based on hubris or idealized notions rooted in romanticized self-determination.

The reinforcing message is that we can all learn something.  When we elect not to, we do so at our peril.  It reminds me of Louis Pasteur's observation that, "Chance favors a prepared mind."

For those who dismiss McCandless as a hopeless romantic or an arrogant kid toying with danger, I can only wonder how they must view themselves and all the loopy things they did when they were young.  The fact is we all have done many things that were flat out dangerous and somehow, we survived.  Some of us were lucky enough to get through the days of our youth unscathed and Christopher Johnson McCandless didn't.  Lest we all forget, in these days so peppered by judgment; McCandless life was lived on his own terms but he died on Nature's terms chiefly because he was ill equipped with the appropriate knowledge required to survive in the wild.  In the end however, we all learn from our mistakes if we are lucky enough to survive them. 

I am reminded of the lyrics from a Paul Simon song that went,

"Now I sit by my window
And I watch the cars
I fear I'll do some damage
One fine day
But I would not be convicted
By a jury of my peers
Still crazy after all these years"

Happy Birthday Matthew :O)

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