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12 October 2015

why we all need a bit of wild

As I think is pretty evident from this blog, I’m enamoured with the countryside. Something about tall trees comforts me. My heart pounds with an urbanite rhythm, but the fresh, clean air of a riverside ramble will always be my favourite way to unwind.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of a bout of cabin fever, I watched Wild for the first time. Have you seen it? If you haven't, you've probably heard of it. It's a film in which Reese Witherspoon does a helluva lot of hiking. The movie's an adaptation of the insanely cool and amazing Cheryl Strayed's memoir of the same name, in which she walks the Pacific Crest Trail from California right up to Washington State. She's 26, and flies into the feat while recovering from the trauma of her Mother's death and the falling apart of her marriage, which have catalysed into a string of dangerous sexual dalliances and heroin use.  Did I mention that the PCT is roughly 1000 miles? And she did the whole thing SOLO?

I really love a good Wilderness film, TV show and/ or novel – anything that portrays a story of somebody leaving society behind and trekking into the unknown. Into the Wild. Kevin McCloud's Escape to the Wild is the perfect example of this, following British families as they shack up in obscure, isolated regions of the world. I know it’s obviously contrived, but the premise is intoxicating.

Why do we, as a modern audience, fangirl so fiercely over people pulling a WaldenI can’t help when I think of Wild to compare it to another film I love: its cinematic predecessor, 2007's Into the Wild.  Both are lifted from true accounts. Both follow a young voyager, 'breaking free' from civilisation on some sort of endurance-based quest for a catharsis in nature. In Into the WildChristopher McCandless (played amazingly by Emile Hersch) goes in search of the "ultimate freedom," instead of enslaving himself to a career post-graduation – much to the chagrin of his abusive, dysfunctional, stiff upper lipped parents. "Is there anybody out there?" Chris yowls into the barren whiteness of the Alaskan mountains. "Guess not!" He looks elated.

Maybe we love these films because in this day and age the idea of falling off the grid, of going out there and getting completely lost, seems a little impossible. Both Cheryl and Chris escape with no phone, no iPod, no Netflix (and no chilling). The Millennial idea of solitude is going for dinner by yourself, phone in hand, flicking continuously through emails and Instagramming the whole experience #solo #edgy. Those who have bid adieu to the daily grind and gallivanted to the far corners of the world still keep my Facebook feed afloat with envy-inducing snaps. We’ve become so reliant on technology that it’s a little terrifying.

Look at us: the Boomerang generation – a nation of young people either living at home with our parents, or in insanely expensive cramped flats, sometimes working two jobs to pay the bills. We’re still incredibly privileged, yet, in an age of increasingly bleak prospects, we CAN'T HELP but romanticise the notion of a life off the beaten path. A life untouched by personal branding, social media, CVs, and escalating Council Tax.

The expeditions in Wild and Into the Wild are not for the faint-hearted. Things do not end well for Chris, the golden wanderer. Cheryl fares better, yet her journey to self-discovery is not without its immensely perilous moments -- for all of her inherent freedom on the track, she's still vulnerable to human nature. 

For some, wrestling with the Wild provides them with strength in the fact that if they can survive the elements, they can survive anything. I don’t think I’ll be hiking a thousand miles anytime soon, but I feel there are certain things we can take away from these films, books, and stories. For one, sometimes it’s necessary to escape for a little while. Even if it’s taking a week off work and throwing oneself back into independence. Even if it's as simple as taking a phone-free weekend, or going for a walk in the park without a screen glued to your face. Even if it's watching Wild and feeling empowered in the knowledge that no matter how small you feel right now, there is a big, wide, wild world out there. 

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