Monthly Archives: June 2013

Not the “What”, but the “Why”: a Pilgrimage on the Pacific Crest Trail

I just finished listening to Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”

Strayed was 26 when she decided to walk a good chunk of a hiker’s Holy Grail, the Pacific Crest Trail. Her hike ranged from the killing heat of Southern California to the Columbia River (though like most other hikers, she had to bypass much of the Sierras because 1995 was a record year for snowfall).

Strayed had never backpacked. She was in lousy shape. Right before she began her journey, she shot heroin with a junkie boyfriend. She was fresh off a divorce of her own choosing, and still in grief over the death of her mother four years earlier.

She artfully weaves these episodes into the story of her hike, lifting it beyond a mere travelogue into a pilgrimage that ends with her sense of wholeness and self-acceptance.

Her story is by turns hilarious and emotionally wrenching. She recounts her mother’s death and the breakup of her family with searing honesty.

She realizes that growing up poor taught her to get by on very little, and this minimalism is definitely an advantage as she slogs through the monontonous miles. Recording her journey at various log books along the trail other PCT hikers read her comments and by the time they meet up at occasional stops, they share a temporary comaraderie (she eventually gets the moniker, “Queen of the PCT”).

I don’t know how she endured the pain of boots one size too small (none of the helpful REI outfitters had hiked the PCT, either). I’m certainly not a long-distance hiker, but I could relate to her detailed fantasies of the meals she’d order when she gets the small amounts of cash in the resupply boxes her friend mails to various stops along the way.

I read on Wikipedia that Reese Witherspoon optioned Strayed’s book. I hope Ms. Witherspoon has the grace NOT to play the title role in the movie (Nick Hornby is supposed to be writing the screenplay). Kirk suggested Jennifer Lawrence would be the right actress for the part of this tough but vulnerable pilgrim and I agree with him.

(P.S. I’ve really taken to Listening to books teaches me to focus on the spoken word; it saves my eyes; it lets me walk the dog while absorbing a story.)


Ray Haener

(H-Minus is the motto of the 505th regiment of the 82nd Airborne. In the American airborne landings in Normandy, the 505th actually jumped before its scheduled “h-hour,” which is how they earned the motto.)

Dear Dad,

Thank you for signing up with your cousin at the Army recruitment center the day after Pearl Harbor. (And thanks to Grandpa Haener for giving his permission for his 17-year-old son to join)

Thank you for surviving more than three years of parachuting into the multiple hells of North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, Holland, Belgium and Berlin (though you were so sure you wouldn’t make it out alive that you stopped writing home, and only resumed your letters after ordered to do so by your commanding officer.)

Thank you for getting sober shortly before I found you. And when I did find you, after years of uncertainty about the man I’d find, you were a loving and generous man. That you for that gift, and for the ten years we had together.

Thank you for sitting me down and setting me straight on the War. My stepdad served, too, but never wanted to talk about it. Growing up, I got my knowledge about WWII from John Wayne movies and Warner Brothers cartoons. I came of age during Vietnam, which seemed an exercise in futility. I came to look on war as an alien concept, invented by men for territory and glory. Thank you for showing me your experiences as an ordinary citizen soldier.

Thank you for our weekly phone calls. I loved your warm, kind voice and your passionate liberal beliefs. Thank you for the steady stream of books, newspaper clippings and little notes, all redolent with the stink of your Marlboros.

I miss you. I think about you every day. Especially today.

‘Old Spore’

That’s what I heard everytime Leo DiCaprio said “old sport” in “The Great Gatsby.” DiCaprio struggled with his accent, which does seem to fit his character of a man struggling to reinvent himself.

Accent aside, he did an amazing job playing Jay Gatz. I keep thinking back to the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version of Gatsy. Redford played the role as a lofty romantic, somehow detached from the dirty business of making money. DiCaprio shows both sides of Gatsby: the thug and the dreamer. In his distorted value system, he could only win Daisy Buchanan’s love by being obscenely rich. Born poor, he believed he had to make a lot of money fast, by hooking up with shady characters and greedy investors.

He might have won Daisy over if he’d followed her wish to run off together, to get away from her society, and from the demands of his moneymaking empire. But her suggestion horrified him. Gatsby couldn’t, wouldn’t run away – he had to prove to her “people” that he was solid and reputable.

I discovered Fitzgerald when I was a swoony teenager. I wanted to be like his beautiful flappers. Their whirl of a social life was everything mine wasn’t. I loved their short fringed dresses and their short, bobbed hair. I loved how they shocked their elders; loved their wit and their heartless treatment of earnest young men. Unfortunatelty, as I got older, I was forced to see that Fitzgerald’s flappers didn’t age well. They had nervous breakdowns, for one thing. Or worse, like Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda, they died in fires. So while his Jazz Age women were seductive, I couldn’t be the party girl I so loved to read about.

Watching Baz Luhrmann’s “Gatsby” was like being at the center of a wonderful, whirling, drug and alcohol-fueled party. It was an exhilarating, exhausting experience. But after the party comes the hangover. You know you’re getting older when instead of thinking about Daisy and Jay’s tragic love, you wonder who got Gatsby’s mansion when he died? The bank? Meyer Wolfshiem?

My reluctant cynicism may be a function of age, or the recent recession, which certainly affected me. Or maybe Luhrmann was successful in exposing the rot beneath the shining excess of our dreams.

I wished Luhrmann had scrapped the conceit of Nick Carroway writing “Gatsby.” The Nick in Fitzgerald’s book floats above the story, and it does make emotional sense to have him deeply affected by his friend’s death. But to have a kindly shrink advise him to write about it? And then to have those words swirling around the screen, like cartoon characters from “The Sorceror’s Apprentice?” It was as if Luhrmann didn’t quite trust his artistic vision, which is a powerful one that can stand on its own, without cute little homages to his source material.


“We Need the Tonic of Wildness”

Tamolitch Pool, also known as Blue Pool, is the spot where the McKenzie river pops back up after flowing underground through lava beds.

Spent several days camping in Central Oregon. Kirk mountain biked the McKenzie River trail and I hiked around Clear Lake, on one of the most serene summery days ever.

New tent, new camp stove, gorgeous weather and friendly, laid-back people. But more restorative than time off is time spent under towering old growth firs and alongsite pristine lakes.

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” Henry David Thoreau, “Walden, Or Life in the Woods.”

Blue Pool