Into the Wild with Alexander Supertramp

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.  I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, an obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospital board.  The hospitality was as cold as the ices.”
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

In the spring of April 1992 a young man named Chris McCandless walked into the Alaskan wilderness to live off the wild.  His decomposing body was found in September inside a bus by moose hunters.

Chris took to the road directly after graduating from Emory University in 1990. He traveled the continental U.S. and part of Mexico.  His movements took him from Arizona, to California, to the Dakotas, to Washington state, and eventually Alaska.  He donated his life savings to charity, burned his remaining cash, and simply migrated from place to place.  He picked up work along the way to fuel his journey, but ultimately desired to take his odyssey into the Alaskan wilderness.

Chris changed his name to Alexander Supertramp and discontinued all contact with his family.  He was driven by a need to explore the wilderness, externally as well as internally.  Amongst many writers to pick up on the trail of Alexander Supertramp, Jon Krakauer captured this odyssey best.  He initially wrote an article for Outside magazine, but became so obsessed that he wrote Into the Wild to elaborate on the heart and soul of this traveler.  Men’s Journal went on to summarize this work as “Sensational… [Krakauer] is such a good reporter that we come as close as we probably ever can to another person’s heart and soul.”

Krakauer interviews family members, people whom Chris met on the road, and analyzes previous travelers cut from the same cloth to paint the entire landscape surrounding this tale.  What’s interesting about this subject is how much it polarizes its readers.  Some people think that Chris was a clueless idiot who ventured into the wild.  I’ve met people who actually said that he deserved what he got.  Others view the story from a more romantic perspective and appreciate the attempt, intellect, and will power to break away from modern society for that long.

Whichever side you may take, there’s no doubt that Mr. Supertramp left an impression on everyone he met.  He wrote, “so many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.  The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.  The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun” (pg. 56-57).  He believed this and encouraged others to do the same.

He was consumed with nature and nature ultimately consumed him, but his spirit lives on within Krakauer’s text.  It’s a wonderful read for those who favor simplicity and minimalism.

I pass this off to you.

 

Krakauer

Two recent reads of mine have been Into Thin Air and Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer.  His works are open, insightful, well-researched, humble, and easy to read.

Into Thin Air was his personal account of climbing Mt. Everest in 1996.  His group and many others were caught in a freak storm on the upper slopes of the mountain.  Two well-known and experienced team leaders lost their lives along with many others.

Krakauer recounts the disturbing details that led to this event.  The main reason for being there was to write on the commercialization of climbing Mt. Everest and the daring risks many people are willing to take to make a summit.  Climbers bent their own rules to make this happen and faced severe repercussions as a result.

Krakauer admits to his own initial mistakes on reporting the first time around.  In retrospect, there’s not much one can control at such high altitudes.  Climbers are dealing with lower oxygen levels that cause hypoxia and other ailments.  Mistakes are bound to happen – especially when a large amount of climbers become traffic jammed on a single rope.  This book sets the record straight  while sharing a lot about the culture of mountaineering.

The second book was Where Men Win Glory:  The Odyssey of Pat Tillman.  I only knew fragmented details about this post 9/11 event.  Krakauer’s research was inspiring and top-notch revealing what happened in its entirety.  As one of my co-workers said, “It should be a must-read for all high schoolers [thinking of joining the military].”

Pat Tillman’s story was inspiring.  He left a multi-million dollar contract to pursue a very noble cause in becoming a Ranger.  He held true to his morals and ethics.  He challenged everything and sought nothing but truth.  His death, by result of fratricide (friendly fire) in Afghanistan , was covered up by the U.S.Army.  Before, Tillman was used a high profile commercial product to promote military enlistment.  His patriotism was marketed by the Bush Administration and recruiters everywhere.  What impressed me the most, was how Tillman wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.  He just wanted to do his job and fight for his country.

Upon his death, however, Tillman’s life was not honored by high ranking officials.  Officers were promoted, the people responsible were slapped on the wrist, and the Tillman family was lied to on many levels.  Krakauer bravely takes on these issues with compelling research and reporting.  He exposes how political  agendas by the military and politicians sweep their shit under the rug to keep up appearances and mislead the public with propoganda.  One example was how Jessica Lynch was used as propaganda to hide a battle in Iraq, which U.S. A-10 Warthogs fired upon their own men.

An overall lesson from this research is to always question the institutions and policies that are in place.  Many times, the truth is concealed by political agendas and poor leadership.  This is a fine example of America’s right to accurate information, freedom of speech, and our necessity to fight for the truth.  It is a fine recount of Pat Tillman’s life and real story of what happened in Afghanistan.

The Submission by Amy Waldman

Down the stairs, back in time, until she came upon herself and Cal standing in front of Picasso’s Weeping Woman at the Tate in London.  Claire could still visualize the portrait today – the blue in her hair, the red in her hat, that ghastly, skull-like area around the mouth – more clearly, in fact, than she could see the husband who had stood next to her.

“Kind of ruins it that Picasso was so horrible, doesn’t it,” Claire had said.  “He probably made Dora Maar cry, then painted her crying.”

“So great art requires a morally pure artist?”  Cal asked.  “You look at the creation, not the creator.”

“So you ignore that he tormented poor Dora.”

“No, you judge the paintings as works of art, and Picasso as a man.  There’s no inconsistency in loving one and reviling the other.  And thankfully the converse is true as well:  you love me even though I made some pretty lousy art.  Maybe arrogance is necessary for greatness.”
-Amy Waldman,
The Submission pg. 272

Two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a jury is voting on a memorial design to be built in remembrance.  The choices are “The Garden” or “The Void”.  The architects are anonymous in this vote. And after careful deliberations with the persistent voice of the 9/11 widow Claire, wanting to build a memorial for her late husband Cal, “The Garden” is selected.

The revealed architect:  an American educated, and professional architect, Muslim named Mohammad Khan.

Amy Waldman’s novel The Submission takes us into the still healing New York City.  It reveals the politics, fear, and never ending anger among its citizens.  Waldman uses her journalistic perspective to reveal the larger picture beyond Claire and Mohammed.  Using a multitude of other characters with sharp contrasts in personalities and ideologies of post-9/11 America, the readers wrestle with the quintessential idea of America’s post 9/11 identity and a Muslim’s persistence to let art speak for itself.  Amy Waldman has wrote a novel that challenges its readers to see these varying perspectives and the often, less spoken divides of ethnicity and religion.

“Ah, So.”

Excerpt from Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul
By Sharon Gannon, David Life

“In a 1979 lecture, Ram Dass told a great story about not getting caught up in preferences, based on a teaching from the Third Chinese Patriarch:
The Great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.

Just look at your life and think how many preferences you have. You prefer pleasure over Pain? Life over death? Friends over aloneness? Freedom over imprisonment? Love over hate? Where are your attachments? Where are your clingings? Are you stuck in polarities? That is what the Third Patriarch is asking. ‘Make the slightest distinction, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart,’ he says. Make the slightest distinction, and you’ve created hell. ‘If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.’ Are you ready to live like that? Do you realize how spacious you have to be, to live by that kind of philosophy?

That’s the fiercest kind of philosophy I know. But I like to have that kind of fierce friend to hang out with me, to keep reminding me how much I ‘hold opinions.’ This should be like this, and that should be like that, and I want everybody to be thus and so, and wouldn’t it be better if…? Instead of just being spacious with it, we’re full of opinions. Not to ‘hold opinions’ doesn’t mean we don’t have them – it means we are not attached to them. It doesn’t mean we don’t have preferences, it means we’re not attached to our preferences. I can prefer blue over green, and decide that when there’s a choice. I’ll pick the blue over the green, but if I end up with green, ah, so.

‘Ah, so’ – remember the ‘Ah, So’ story? There was a monk who lived in the monastery up on the hill. The local girl down in the village got pregnant by the fisherman. She didn’t want to cause problems for him in the village, so she said, ‘It was the monk up in the monastery.’ When the baby was born, the townspeople carried it up the hill to the monastery. They knocked on the gate, and the monk opened the door; they said to the monk, ‘This is your baby – you raise it.’ And the monk said, ‘Ah, so.’ And he took the baby, and he closed the gate. I mean, the guy’s whole life changed just like that, in that moment, and his only reason is, ‘Ah, so.’

Nine years later the girl was dying. She didn’t want to die without admitting what had happened, so she said to the people, ‘Look, I lied. It really wasn’t the monk, it was the fisherman.’

The villagers were horrified! They went up to the monastery and they knocked on the door. The monk opened the gate, and there standing next to him was this nine-year-old child. The villagers said, ‘We’ve made a terrible mistake. This isn’t your child after all. We’ll take him back down to the village to raise him, and you’re free to go back to your monastic life.’ And the monk said, ‘Ah, so.’ He was so much right here that whatever new change arose, ‘Ah, so.’

If you practice yoga [or live life] for small, selfish reasons, you will remain the same, bound by your beliefs about what you can and cannot do. Let go and offer all your effort to limitless potential. Dedicate yourself to the happiness of all beings.
Keep your attentions fixed on seamless, economic breathing, integrated with movement. Keep your mind fixed on God. If you can do this during asana practice, you will create a vinyasa of happiness and contentment that will be unshakable in the face of life’s ups and downs.

You might like forward bending and dislike backward bending, or vice versa. But when you choose to perform both with equal zest, you will attain some freedom from the tyranny of thoughts. When you can experience your likes and dislikes from an amicable distance and transcend their usual hold on you, Yoga is possible. Ah, so.”

By Sharon Gannon, David Life. Pages 178-179.

Siegried Sassoon

“The Rear Guard” By Siegfried Sassoon

Groping along the tunnel, step by step,
He winked his prying torch with patching glare
From side to side, and sniffed the unwholesome air.

Tins, boxes, bottles, shapes too vague to know,
A mirror smashed, the mattress from a bed;
And he, exploring fifty feet below
The rosy gloom of battle overhead.
Tripping, he grapped the wall; saw someone lie
Humped at his feet, half-hidden by a rug,
And stooped to give the sleeper’s arm a tug.
“I’m looking for headquarters.” No reply.
“God blast your neck!” (For days he’d had no sleep.)
“Get up and guide me through this stinking place.”
Savage, he kicked a soft, unanswering heap,
And flashed his beam across the livid face
Terribly glaring up, whose eyes yet wore
Agony dying hard ten days before;
And fists of fingers clutched a blackening wound.
Alone he staggered on until he found
Dawn’s ghost that filtered down a shafted stair
To the dazed, muttering creatures underground
Who hear the boom of shells in muffled sound.
At last, with sweat of horror in his hair,
He climbed through darkness to the twilight air,
Unloading hell behind him step by step.

Siegfried Sassoon wrote that Britain’s military roles were acts of conquest rather than defense and liberation.  His poem rear-guard is one that any soldier can relate to in its general form. The soldier is disconnected and not referenced to as anything more than a pawn.  While war-hero propaganda was used to influence many to join the war efforts, Sassoon and others wrote of war’s true horror and outcomes.  Heros were rare – death and tragedy were abundant.

W. B. Yeats

“Sailing to Byzantium” By W. B. Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

This is by far one of my favorites from William Butler Yeats.  Lines like “gather me into the artifice of eternity” allude to his desire to remain immortal as the generations pass and the old become “a tattered coat on a stick.”  It is this need to live on that moves Yeats and so many others to write upon the layers of generational literature in which we reside.

Landscape: W.H. Auden and Brueghel

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

By W.H. Auden

I remember sitting in my British Literature class, senior year, and seeing this painting by Brueghel.  I saw the landscape first, then the ploughman and his horse, and finally the ship sailing away.  We had first read W. H. Auden’s poem and I was searching for the relationship with Icarus.  He had flown too close to the sun and melted his wings falling tragically to the earth. 

My heart went out for his ambition and his outcome. 

I scanned the skies, but could not find him.  I followed his trek downwards, and there they were.  His legs kicked out with a splash.

“To summarize this poem and this painting” our professor said.  “Life goes on.”

It was a truth that many modernist scholars agreed to.  Writer Robert Frost agreed in saying: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned in life:  It goes on.”  This was a truth that really humbled me and my ambitions as a graduating senior.  Life might not always go my way, and when it doesn’t, the world may not bend with my sorrows or grief.  Other people have lives, plans and their own tragedies to deal with as well. 

This is something that really hit me in studying the disconnection with modern literature.  Many writers grieved within their own isolation.  All that they had was a pen and paper to express how they felt.  Not everyone read it and went “WOW” as I did when first reading The Alchemist.  This dealt with the darker side of the human condition.  I found myself wanting to learn more.

This is my introduction into the modern side of literature.  Stay tuned for more.