The Call of the Wild
Last November I had the pleasure of going back to the Kendal Mountain Festival. If you haven’t gone, its “vision is to inspire more people to explore, enjoy & represent mountains, wilderness & cultures”. Amazing huh! The festival consists of films, talks, outdoor pursuits and gathering of minds over beer and brightly coloured puffer jackets.
I always come away feeling inspired with a renewed drive to get outside after being stuck at an office desk for months on end, slowly turning to stone. However, one thing always sticks in my brain when I dip my toes into the realms of extreme adventurers and climbers – a single question, and it’s a question that I always ask as I work on my art. Why are people drawn to the wild? And why does this ‘call’ sometimes involve extreme sports and explorations. I know that not all lovers of the wild undertake extreme actions, but as life becomes more connected and we become more disconnected with the outdoors I wonder if more individuals will cast off their daily routines in favour taking on nature.
I’ve heard the mummering’s of people who think these risk takers are selfish or stupid, not respecting the wild or their loved ones as they walk on the thin line between life and death, pushing themselves further with each move. I personally do understand the drive, but equally realise you need to be prepared and experienced.
In fact, it’s just happened recently when Benedict Allen, an experience explorer, went missing in Papa New Guinea. He was on an exhibition to return to a remote indigenous tribe, and knew he would be out of contact for some time. When he failed to return he was all over the news as missing and the family were fearing the worse. However, he was found alive, suffering from malaria, and stating he didn’t need rescuing. What I find interesting is his reasoning. Benedict felt he needed to totally disconnect with his life and the western world to be able to immerse himself in the tribe’s culture; to exist in the present and feel 100% connected with a different way of life. I understand the drive, the need to get outside the safely of our life’s, to live, explore and experience the world as others do. I mean it’s hard to see past the noise of our culture and way of life, and all the annoying emotions, pressures and messages that bombard us every minute – who wouldn’t want to live in the ‘here and now’ and experience a life outside their own.
Self-portrait of Chris McCandless on the Stampede Trail, found undeveloped in his camera after his death.
I’ve read many books (but not enough ) recounting the stories of people taking on the wild, including all the well-known stories, such Into Thin Air and White Spider, but one of the first books on this subject I read that really brought this home was ‘Into the Wild’ based on the true story of Christopher McCandless. Christopher donated all his saving to charity and then headed off into the wild. He sadly died a couple of years later 30 miles into the Stampede Trail in Alaska only weighing 30 kilos, aged just 24.
Many continue to ask what happened to Chris. Chris’s story got into my soul. I understand the pull that made Chris disconnect with the complicated modern life, but with such a tragic ending to his journey it does make you question what drove Chris to turn his back and walk head on into the harsh and unforgiving wild of the Alaskan landscape. So many people have been touched deeply by him and since then 100’s of them have followed in his footsteps to gain insight to what he was chasing in the heart of the Alaskan bush. For likeminded souls it is hard to explain what we’re chasing as we put our life’s at risks to climb mountains or walk off the grid. But there is something in our hearts that wants to connect back to our wild beginnings, where things feel more honest, where we can step back into natures chain.
I’m profoundly fascinated by people relationship with the wild, and I don’t think we can ever fully understand individual response to the call of the wild. I often find my self feeling that we have given up something deeply human and personal as we tame the world and surround ourselves by technology and concrete boxes. As technology removes us further away from nature I wonder what price we paying.