Reclaiming the Wild
[This post originally appeared on Chelsey's personal blog.]
Wild. That is the name of the book I brought with me to Norway this past week. A memoir by Cheryl Strayed that was made famous by a movie starring Reese Witherspoon a couple of years back. A story about a woman whose answer to her spiraling, drug-induced, sex-addicted life was a one hundred day hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. A hope for change and reconciliation with her own grief drove her deep into the wilderness of California and Oregon. The book is compelling because of Strayed’s boldness in baring even the darkest parts of her humanity, but I was drawn to it because she gracefully gave a voice to a part of my heart that I often feel the need to keep silent—the part of me that is disconnected and restless until I am reclaimed by my need to be wild.
I read Strayed’s book while I was traveling around Norway. When I packed it into the only space left vacant in my backpack I knew how annoying I was being—how predictable it was that I would choose this book for my week-long trek—but I hoped to dive into an adventure that paralleled my own. I wasn’t camping out in the wilderness or going weeks without a shower or carrying a backpack half my size for 18-miles a day, but just as Strayed believes the tree-root-lined paths and 360-panarama views from mountain tops offered her a sort of healing and redemption, so do I.
I laced up my hiking boots the first morning in a tiny farming town that is cradled in a valley surrounded by steep, snow-covered mountains. Each mountain is distinct and rugged, possessing personalities formed by glaciers over thousands of years, aged and resilient on the other side of their journey. Some of the mountains are so grey and rocky, prehistoric in their character, that locals carry stories and souvenir postcards about them being trolls frozen on the horizon. I was dazzled by their imaginations, wishing I could climb inside a troll mountain and write children’s stories until the trolls appeared in the flesh, confirming the stories and inviting me into wardrobes and on express trains to wizarding schools. Norway is the kind of place that expands your imagination until you think you might pass out from the longing for fictional stories to become something like memoirs that take place in secret, hidden parts of the world.
It was in this farming town that I built my first fire. I placed logs on top of each other, crossed like I’d seen my mom do when we went camping, took a good guess at where the kindling should go and held my breath as I struck a match and watched a flame grow to life at the end of it. As the fire erupted into thick oranges and reds in front of me, an unreasonable kind of joy grabbed a hold of my heart. I made a fire. I have never made a fire before. But I did it. I made fire and it was good. Later that afternoon I collected a few sticks from the yard and we roasted marshmallows and drank hot chocolate as the room filled with warm air from the fire that I made.
It was in this farming town that I climbed to the top of a mountain. A path lined with tree roots carried us eighty percent of the way up to an overlook that jutted out over the town we had come from. I climbed the rest of the way on a stony staircase that I imagined the trolls must have put into place. My heart pounded against my chest as I made the final ascent to a view that I will not try to put words to, I will only say that tears immediately leapt into my eyes as I desperately tried to wrap up all that lay before me to stuff in my mind and save for later. I sat on the top of that mountain and recited Psalm 23 out loud over and over again, alone and content. Completely enamored by my sore legs and dirty hiking boots and the ant-sized boats that were circling around the fjord.
That week we went kayaking under the supervision of waterfalls and sat for a long while watching the 10 pm sun dance on the Atlantic and drove on roads that were lined with fifteen feet of snow on both sides.
With each new moment of being pulled into the quiet, intense embrace of the unscathed wild, I felt a sort of resurrection happen within me. I used to keep pictures on my desktop of images that appeared when I typed “wild” into the PInterest search bar. Lions with heavy, unkempt manes; flowers growing sideways in a field; sunsets being orchestrated in a late summer sky. I clung to these images the same way that I cling to the kayaking, hiking, fire-building parts of life—they remind me that if it’s in God’s nature to create wild things, maybe it’s okay that I’m a little wild, too.
Maybe it’s okay that I am influenced more by imagination and running after the hard dreams than I am by a need to be stable. That I am giving up a steady job in favor of waiting tables and pursuing a songwriting career. That I decided to go to Norway a month and a half out after some Google image searches and cheap plane tickets convinced me to do so.
It is really easy to shame the parts of me that I think other people don’t approve of. The part of me that isn’t using my college degree right now or would never be labeled as practical. My fear of the opinions of others is so loud that it keeps me paralyzed, unable to pursue the things I know I’m being asked to pursue. When I am in the physical wild, there is a part of me that feels utterly fearless—unafraid to climb rocks I could fall off of or sit on ledges high above my next point of contact or explore uncharted territory. Why is it so easy to feel unbound by fear in these circumstances but so bound by fear in the circumstance of my actual, real life?
I carry this question as I enter a new season of life. A season where I don’t have a steady plan for the future and everything is unknown and scary. A season where I can plant deep roots and stake my claim in who I want to be or I can run like hell. A season that’s asking if I want to honor the wild parts of me and disregard what I believe others are thinking, or honor the feeble opinions of others and disregard the life that God is calling me to live. I hope I always choose the spirit that runs unashamed inside of me. The spirit that is so very drawn to the things that are wild.
“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.” –Cheryl Strayed
So very belonging to me.
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