Into The Wild - Maya Bernadett          

Into The Wild Essay

Wilderness or Home: Finding a Sense of Belonging

“Into the Wild” is the title of a book first written in 1996 by well-known adventure writer Jon Krakauer. It is a true account of one young man’s adventure across the “wilderness” of the United States, and it was later adapted into a movie in 2007 of the same name. The story is not so unique, but Krakauer frames his story in a way that invites us to think about what it means to go against a typical life society expects from us, and how we as human beings are supposed to try and find our place in this world. A young, white, affluent man from a well-to-do family who graduated from a prestigious university and suddenly abandons his family, changes his name, and leaves the only life he has ever known to “find himself” by reconnecting with nature is a story that’s been done before, many times, and gets old after a while. I mean really, another white privileged male who feels like life is so hard and that there must be more to life than a comfortable middle class lifestyle? Heard that one a million times before. As a Native person, reading this story from a Native point of view, I admit that my initial reaction was to feel sorry for this man. How sad that he is looking for a connection to this land, I thought, when he doesn’t know the original stories, the original languages, original histories, and original memories that this land holds. As Native people, our ancestors are buried in this land, our nations were formed on this land, our language, stories, histories, and memories all come from this land, and that is a connection that cannot really be substituted. Despite this, however, many Native communities are plagued by many social ills that seem to stem from the same place- looking for a sense of identity, belonging, and purpose in life. It seems that nature does hold the key to finding a sense of meaning, yet regardless of whether someone is Native or not, it seems like this modern life we live in disassociates us from nature in such a way that we feel lost and empty, and do not know how to find our way back. Nature is the way back, but we do not know how to be a part of nature in a way that can make us feel whole again, so we try the best we can, even if it may mean dying in the process.
The word wilderness, as it is understood in the English language, describes a natural environment that is unknown, possibly dangerous, and devoid of human presence. It implies adventure, discovery, and an eventual taming of something once unknown. It was this very understanding of “wilderness” that inspired Chris McCandless, the protagonist in the book, to go explore it. This idea of wilderness gave him a sense of wonder, adventure, and meaning that modern, suburban, middle-class American life simply could not offer. Indeed he had many adventures, finding work wherever he could, hunting his own food, living in tents, no contact with his family or friends. Just him, the land, and a passion for self-discovery. Interestingly, after two years of living this way, it still was not enough for him. He needed something more, something to top it all off. He decided that the adventure of all adventures would be a “Great Alaskan Odyssey”, where he could throw away the map, explore the “last frontier” and get the truly transcendental nature experience that would finally fulfill his journey to self discovery and make him truly understand life’s purpose. As John Krakauer describes in the book, “Alaska has long been a magnet for dreamers and misfits, people who think the unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier will patch all the holes in their lives.” A huge undertaking, for sure, and a lot to expect from a trip to a place you have never been to before, are not familiar with, and indeed had the potential to be very dangerous. He eventually did go on his great Alaskan odyssey, surviving on his own for over 100 days, an impressive feat. Whether he found life’s ultimate purpose and meaning however, we will never know. What he did find though, was death, his body to be discovered a couple months later by some moose hunters. So really then, what was the whole point? Was it worth it? The harsh reality is that the land is both a source of life and a source of death, a place of beauty but also of terrifying vastness and stark emptiness. The land has the ultimate power, and the land always wins. To everyone out there who is feeling lost, confused, or empty- tell the land your story. The land will listen to you, the land will weep for you, and most importantly, the land will always remember you.

Maya Bernadett is a Yale University graduate and aspiring writer. She currently lives in New Haven, CT and works for the Yale College Dean’s Office.

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