2008.03.26 I made it back home

Written by David Green.

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.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • 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.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.

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