2008.03.26 I made it back home

Written by David Green.


The movie “Into the Wild” begins with these words by Lord Byron:

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is society, where none intrudes,

By the deep Sea, and music in its roar;

I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”

Byron’s poem is the perfect introduction for two reasons. His poem describes the adventures and thoughts of a world-weary young man who is disillusioned with a life of pleasure and partying.

And that describes a 24-year-old boy named Christopher McCandless who hit the road after college, never to return. He called himself Alexander Supertramp and he had one goal in mind: To lose himself in the back country of Alaska. When he sent out his last postcard to a friend, he wrote, “Now I walk into the wild.”laddertonowhere.jpg

McCandless’s story is a fascinating one. He was a friendly, intelligent kid who suddenly left his family and friends behind to strike out on his own.

There’s an odd twist to his wanderlust: He never spoke to his family again, not even to his sister that he was so close to. Not a phone call, not a letter, nothing.

Anti-social doesn’t seem like an apt description. He spent a lot of time alone, but he made some very good friends on his travels. As presented in the movie, he deeply touched a lot of lives before once again shouldering his backpack and moving on down the road.

The McCandless tale appeals to a large audience. Both the movie and Jon Krakauer’s book are highly acclaimed. But there’s a segment of the audience who makes a different connection. We also were once out on the road with thumb extended.

Most of us, I think, didn’t follow the same route—we called home occasionally—and we didn’t break away so completely.

McCandless hiked for miles into the Alaskan wilderness before settling down to live inside an old school bus left behind by construction workers. He wasn’t fully prepared for the challenge, but he was exhilarated. He was living life to its fullest, in his own odd way.

I remember a week on an island in Lake Michigan. The first weekend was spent with four other people who went home Sunday afternoon. I was left alone for the remainder of the time.

The sudden shock of solitude hit hard at first, but soon I was living that exhilarating experience, despite setbacks. McCandless’s meat rotted with maggots; my bread quickly turned moldy.

When McCandless was ready to leave and return to civilization, his departure was blocked by a raging river. For me, I  simply took the ferry back to the mainland and hitched home. Over and over, my experiences were all very tame compared to his.

There’s a much bigger difference between his adventures and my travels: I came back home.

McCandless wrote, “no longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees.” But before his four-month journey ended, he was poisoned by the wilderness. According to his journal, he ate an inedible plant, became sick and eventually died of starvation, about three weeks before some hikers found his body.

I’ve read descriptions of Christopher McCandless that call him foolish, arrogant and selfish.

After his father learned of his son’s death, he asked, “How could a kid with so much compassion cause his parents so much pain?”

Some say he had a death wish—why else would a kid walk into the wild so unprepared? I don’t know. Naòve, perhaps. Certainly lacking caution. Too strong a dose of youthful invincibility. Climbing a ladder to nowhere like I’m doing in this old photo from the 1970s.

Like many people, he really didn’t hate Man, as Byron wrote, he just liked Nature more.

Many thinkers have written about the need to share happiness, and McCandless wrote in his journal near the end, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Maybe that’s why I came home.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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