Preamble: I’ve been gone a while…
I’ve not finished a book in a while and I’ve not felt inspired to write in a while. I’ve been low on energy after a busy period and I’ve been flirting with depression. I had a week off now and haven’t done all that much. I’ve also made myself a cosy little reading corner in our bedroom. So I’m hoping I’ll be refreshed and motivated both to read and write more going forward.
Warning: unapologetically sentimental review incoming…
Cheryl’s journey and her struggles resonated deeply with me – perhaps because I recently lost a parent. I’m older than Cheryl was, and I was not as close to my father as she was to her mother or I am to mine, yet the loss was big and overwhelming.
I see a lot of criticism of Cheryl for 1) going on a 3 month hike pretty much unprepared and 2) being whiny and self-indulgent.
To address the second point first: it’s her story so she gets to tell it how she wants to – if it’s not your cup of tea, fair enough. I do think a lot of people don’t really realise the impact that a loss of a parent you are so close to, and at a relatively young age still, has. Cheryl’s life basically disintegrates when her mother dies and her family falls apart. And I get it. Yes, she definitely made mistakes and definitely could have handled things better, but she’s human. She’s flawed. She was grieving. Which brings me back round to point 1 again: I agree 100% that she had no idea what she was getting into and that she was completely unprepared. But that’s part of what makes it an interesting story. If this had been the story of someone emotionally well balanced who had planned every detail of their trip it would probably have gone something like this: “I went on a long hike. My feet got sore. I saw some nature and some animals and met a few people. Some days it rained. The end.”
Instead we get to travel both with and inside Cheryl as she thinks about her past and tries to come to terms with it and with the loss of her mother, and we have our hearts in our throats when she runs out of water or traverses treacherous snow, and breathe a sigh of relief when she makes it safely to her next checkpoint.
I am not a free spirit. I am way too afraid to do something like this hike, even if I prepared it properly. I get scared when I go for a morning run by myself. I need safety and guarantees, even though I know in the back of my head that there really are none. Cheryl and I are very different people. I could only wish I had the strength and bravery to do something like this – though perhaps I am strong in other ways. I admire and respect her journey. And I truly believe in it’s healing power.
I also think the story is beautifully told. Sometimes heartbreaking (and there’s a part about her mother’s horse that I barely managed to get through), often suspenseful and also funny and insightful.
I am no big lover of poetry, but it just so happens that one of my all time favourite lines of poetry is quoted in this book – from Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
This is basically my mantra. This is what I tell myself, what I ask myself when I get too bogged down in routine, when I feel like I’m losing my way. It’s a reminder to me that life is a precious gift, and in a very real way it’s up to me what I make of it. Cheryl did something beautiful and courageous with her one wild and precious life, and I hope to do so too.
Thank you for sharing your story with me Cheryl, and for letting me walk alongside you for a while.
Side note: I do wish I hadn’t had the Oprah’s book club edition of this, with her personal notes. I’m sure Oprah is a lovely lady, but I frankly don’t care two figs about her thoughts on life, love or literature. And I kept accidentally clicking the little icon and going to the “footnotes”. Ah well.