Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Freezing to Death: Surely a Horrible Way to Go Out

Just before the story of the mountain climbers lost in Oregan started, K-rock gave me the book Into the Wild. It’s an intriguing true story about a young man, Christopher McCandles, who gave his college fund to charity and then set out to be a vagabond. He was from a well-to-do family, a good upbringing, a solid education…but he abandoned it all, took on the name Alexander Supertramp, and headed out on an amazing journey throughout North America, until he finally made his way to Alaska for his “Alaskan Odyssey”. I relate to him in profound ways. Though I’ve yet to do it, I’ve said many times that I’d like to run away and be a hermit. A big difference between me and him, however, is that I’d head to tropical climates – not the frozen tundra.

The author, through conversations with Chris’s family, friends, and people he met along the way, is able to describe Chris aka Alex as someone who was deeply introspective, compassionate, and smart, yet bullheaded and possessing enough hubris that he would eventually starve and freeze to death only to be found as a 65 pound corpse in an abandoned bus in the woods. (It’s ironic that he wanted to live for an extended period of time in the “wilderness” to prove something to himself about “independence”, but by Alaskan standards he would’ve been considered only in the woods…with a number of cabins not too many miles out, and a major highways about 30 miles away.)

An old man to whom he became close said that the two shared a social need that would be trumped by a need for long stretches of solitude. I know that feeling intimately. When the author compares Chris’s story to that of other idealists and romantics, including the story of his own youth, I feel related to them, though not so much into the nature-lover aspect as the desire to be left alone so as to get used to my own loneliness and learn to love that awful feeling, and to understand the paradox of hating the social yet needing it every now and then. Additionally, one major thing keeping me from becoming a hermit is lack of hot-water-on-demand, which I need more than food. I know it’s not a realistic idea, but it is alluring.

Unlike these people, I am not young enough to retain the thought of being immortal. Rather, I am consumed by thoughts of death and mortality. I had this awareness from a young age and I’ve learned to live with it. I’m not afraid of death, I’m afraid of pain. And I’m just narcissistic enough to want not to die if only because, being dead, I wouldn’t get to see who turned out for the funeral, or, for that matter, if anybody made good on my wishes to cremate me.

1 comment:

mike said...

i have that book too! and i also fantasize about becoming a hermit. (as long as I can have food and access to the internet-haha)