“We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life go to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it is there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope…” –Edward Abbey
Hello Seen readers. I have returned from Alaska. Sort of. Physically, I’m back. But I’m not entirely convinced that I returned in spirit. I spent the last month bicycling over mountain passes, hiking across the tundra, and drifting on the ocean while thinking about the human need for escapism.
American culture romanticizes the frontier. We fantasize about running away, about striking out for the horizon and sloughing off our layers of tame sophistication as we disappear into the vastness of the unknown. And for most people, it stops there: the siren song, for all its plaintive beseeching, doesn’t claim the physical self, only some echo of the spirit.
And maybe this is why we are so drawn to the stories of the ones that really DO escape, who drop off the map. My time up in Alaska made me want to revisit one of my favorite books from childhood: My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. From the book jacket:
It’s a wonderful little book that is half instructional manual, complete with drawings of native plants, and advice on how to burn a hollow indentation into an oak stump in order to tan a deer hide. My ten year old self yearned to follow Sam’s path, to make my own tree-cave home and fulfill my need for friendship by training my own peregrine falcon. But for all my restlessness and the romance of the book’s feral austerity, I always knew that it was just a fantasy.
For the next few installments of the Seen, I’m going to be writing about people who took the leap and truly disappeared. In keeping with the Alaskan theme, I’ll be starting this series in the relatively near future with thoughts on Chris McCandless of Into the Wild fame. Unless, of course, I disappear before then…