Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed, Vintage/Random House (www.randomhouse.com), 2013, 315 pages, $ 15.95.
In 1995, at the age of twenty-six, Cheryl Strayed found herself the very poster child of lost: from her mother, lost to cancer, from her marriage, lost by her infidelity, from her life, lost to sex and drugs. An orphan in every sense of the word, her life was a shambles. In this no-holds-barred memoir, Wild recounts how Strayed found herself again somewhere along eleven-hundred miles of the Pacific Crest Trail between the Mojave Desert, through California and Oregon, to Washington State.
With only her backpack ‘Monster’ to keep her company, Strayed pits her untested self against the perils of the Pacific Crest Trail – rattlesnakes, bears, record snows, loneliness – while simultaneously struggling to make sense of her past. In her trek through the wilds of the outdoors and the wilds of her soul, Strayed’s journey becomes one of self-destruction and self-discovery, desolation and solace. At times Strayed’s writing recalls Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods in her self-effacing honesty, but more so the gritty memoirs of Deborah Copaken Kogan’s Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War. Strayed is nothing if not raw in her forthright accounting of her life. Wild throbs with pain. Reliving memories as blunt as standing in the snow on Christmas and pulling the trigger to dispatch the her mother’s dying horse to the tender blue tattoo on her shoulder to lives and loves lost, Strayed does not shy from retelling her life with a blunt insight and compassion and self-awareness so often glossed over today. If Wild is Strayed reckoning with herself, the reader becomes the silent spectator at this punitive peepshow.
Along the way, Strayed sheds her baggage (both figuratively and, because of her zealous packing, literally), including the treads of her feet and a few toenails along the way as her pound of flesh, all casualties of months on the trail. With every step, Strayed’s body is worn raw and bloody and calloused while her soul is reborn and remade and renewed. The woman that emerges from the wild is a far cry from the girl that set foot in the desert.
As tough as it is tender, Wild will leave you grateful for the good in our lives, grieving for that which we’ve lost, and gracious to those who struggle everyday to make sense of the wild in their hearts and souls.