After a rollicking good year of facts, figures, and (f)theories, my Let’s DEWEY This! challenge is at a close. Alas… But we’re not done quite yet! Today I’m adding a bonus round, section 92: memoirs and biographies. Technically this is part of the 900s since 92 is short for 920, but in my library, 92 splits off into its own cliquey area, too cool to sit with the other 900s at lunch.
For 92 I picked Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Wild is a deeply personal account of Strayed’s grief after the death of her mother and the downward spiral of her marriage, events that prompted her to tackle a solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I absolutely adored this book. Here’s my review on Goodreads:
This book gutted me. Its beauty and heart-wrenching rawness hit me hard and deep. Right from the beginning with the chapter about her mother’s death, I was crying big wracking sobs. And from then on, the book was constantly shattering me and putting me back together. Not only that, but accompanying Strayed on this journey, learning with her as she learned, in both her foibles and her victories, was a fascinating and exciting experience. The woods and the mountains are already precious to my heart, and the vividness with which she told her story put me right there with her on the trail. Also, MY GOD she’s an amazing wordsmith. I stayed up 2 hours after my bedtime just to keep reading until the end.
I’d now like to share some of my favorite passages from the book. (I only remembered to use my sticky notes at the beginning and end, so I have no quotes from the middle, but believe me, the whole book’s amazing cover to cover.)
“There was a skylight window in the ceiling that ran the length of the platform bed I shared with [my sister], its transparent pane only a few feet from our faces. Each night the black sky and the bright stars were my stunning companions; occasionally I’d see their beauty and solemnity so plainly that I’d realize in a piercing way that my mother was right. That someday I would be grateful and that in fact I was grateful now, that I felt something growing in me that was strong and real. It was the thing that had grown in me that I’d remember years later, when my life became unmoored by sorrow. The thing that would make me believe that hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was my way back to the person I used to be.”
“It took me years to take my place among the ten thousand things again. To be the woman my mother raised. To remember how she said honey and picture her particular gaze. … I would suffer. I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods.”
“…what mattered was utterly timeless. It was the thing that had compelled them to fight for the trail against all odds, and it was the thing that drove me and every other long-distance hiker onward on the most miserable days. It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It was what I knew before I even really did, before I could have known how truly hard and glorious the PCT would be, how profoundly the trail would both shatter and shelter me.”
“There were so many other amazing things in the world. They opened up inside me like a river. Like I didn’t know I could take a breath and then I breathed. I laughed with the joy of it, and the next moment I was crying my first tears on the PCT. I cried and I cried and I cried. I wasn’t crying because I was happy. I wasn’t crying because I was sad. I wasn’t crying because of my mother or my father or [my ex-husband]. I was crying because I was full.”
Page 273, gazing upon a lake formed from the eruption of a volcano:
“This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was once an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye. Not the mountain or the wasteland or the empty bowl. They simply were not there anymore. There was only the stillness and silence of that water: what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began.”
And lastly, my favorite passage of all, that I whispered to myself over and over as goosebumps rose on my arms, and the ending lines of the book… Page 311:
“…it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was… To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.”