I read Wild a couple years after I lost my mom to cancer. I remember thinking how closely Cheryl’s struggle mirrored my own experiences and was amazed that she had managed to write such a raw and vulnerable memoir. Yesterday, I gave her a Snapple before her talk. Afterwards, we talked for a couple minutes and I thanked her for what she had shared. I told her that I didn’t own her book because I was poor, but that I’d love it if she could sign my library card. She was gracious enough to oblige.
The meaning of life is carrying a beat-up paperback copy of William Butler Yeats along the Sierra backcountry, cursing its ten ounces of deadweight along every sweaty step, trudging under the combined heft of a pack stuffed with gear and silly romanticism, hating his portrait on the front cover and hating the foolish decision to bring it. It’s falling asleep every night bundled in your bag with a headlamp and curled deep under down reading another poem and his wandering words from half a world away, the mythical green hills of a beautiful hilly island and wondering if he would have been so enamored of its beauty if he had to clamber over treeless ten-thousand foot passes and drop into the dusty brown moonscape of scree and talus with small snowmelt ponds bereft of slumbering trout.
But it’s also getting up at dawn, heavy with sleep and missing my usual morning coffee, and hiking to the shoulder of the Whitney giant. It’s dropping my pack and my cares, and accelerating with fleet feet, energized by excitement and a sugary granola bar, running up switchbacks by other backpackers, laden like lumbering pack mules, and flying. It’s tapping the top, signing the register, and running back down. It’s being invincible, being impossible, being indomitable. It’s feeling strong and tall and so high up, so far beyond the fourteen and a half thousand feet of the summit, far up in the thin atmosphere and being so damned alive at the moment, running over loose rocks and knowing you’ll never trip, never fall, never die. And it’s zooming back to your campsite where you fall asleep again, reading Yeats in your fading headlamp light, and holding only your dreams.