I’ve read and reread both of these books several times; one of the few titles where I can admit such a feat. As a human being I have found myself at several transitional moments; kid to teenager, teenager to college student, college student to working adult, working adult to adult focused on his self-worth… At each one of these turns, I’ve picked up these books. While they don’t provide great lessons on transition, they do provide perspective on the world and our place in it. Both have a way of grounding me and tying me back to a simpler way of thinking and looking at the world.
As always, this is not a book report. Rather, it is an opportunity to discuss some themes that emerged for me while reading. If you’ve read either title, please comment below and let me know what you think. I always look forward to hearing from other readers.
Nature is Unforgiving
Since we started walking on land, mankind and our evolutionary brethren have tried to bend nature toward our will. In a multitude of ways, we have overly achieved. We have clear-cut her forests. We have filled her atmosphere with carbon. We have made her oceans our dumping ground. We continually take advantage of her bounty with little regard to the damage we are doing. Still she stands. She stood when we were nothing, but a single cell organism. She will stand long after our damage is done. She will correct the course, find balance, and return to a sense of justice.
With this notion framed against the backdrop of the Canadian and Alaskan frontier, we see man once again running for riches without regard to the pain caused to animals or nature itself. Yet, whether it be the oppressive heat of the desert, the unpredictable weather of the plains, or the brutal cold of the great white north, we see nature as a character meant to be respected. She has little tolerance for injustice and, in some form or fashion, balance will be restored. Animals will follow their instincts. The cold will claim victims. The call of the wild will be hard to ignore.
The Call of the Wild is Innate
This idea may not be true for everyone, but the call of the wild is innate. Without a doubt, some of our fellow human beings may be perfectly comfortable with their lives in the city. Nature may never lure them to her trails, her shoreline, or her wide open spaces. With all honesty, I feel sorry for those people. They have no clue what they are missing. The call for me is innate. It is as real as anything I could fathom. Once upon a time, it beckoned me to leave it all behind for a simpler life. When I realized that option would never fulfill my needs, it changed its approach. Now, it invites me to play among its trees. It demands I stand at her shores and find peace. It whispers about the magic that can only summoned by long drives across her majesty. It makes me jealous, as she lifts her veil to reveal mountain vistas which drop my jaw to the floor.
When I answer the call, I feel centered, whole, and at peace. I feel better equipped to grapple with the challenges presented by my life among my fellow urban dwellers. It also reveals a knowledge I didn’t know I possessed until I was tested. As I hike and explore, I encounter situations that require skills out of my expertise; encountering wild animals, searching for the correct route to recover from a wrong turn, and/or protecting nature for those who follow in my footsteps are just a few examples. These things and many more do not come up naturally in my daily life, but they are buried deep within my bones awaiting the opportunity to present themselves when the situation demands it.
The same can be said for the animals among us. For thousands of years, we have domesticated dogs, cat, cows, horses, and many more. We’ve removed them from their natural habitat in an effort to have them provide companionship and a steady diet to meet our most basic needs. Still, their call to the wild is buried innately within them. You can see it in stray dogs who form packs, indoor cats let loose in the backyard, or a horse free to frolic in a field. In more ways than I can count, we share many characteristics with our domesticated animals. We all long to be free. If tested, we are all capable of survival.
Man Should Watch Himself
Human beings are a smug and overconfident species. We’ve built canyons of steel and glass that reach to the heavens. We’ve pierced the protective shield of our planet to visit those heavens. We’ve cured diseases. We’ve put a computer in our pockets. Despite our achievements, we should watch ourselves.
In this life, we are sure to find ourselves out of our element. We could be lost in the forest, fighting for life at sea, or alone in the blackest of wild nights. When we test nature, we are sure to find ourselves needing defense. These moments define us, but they also reveal our meekness. They silence our smugness and confidence. They put us in our rightful place. I, for one, cherish these moments. Not necessarily the being lost or scared in a pitch black forest, but those moments when I am tested. At 32 years old, I continue to surprise myself, even in those moments where I fail. Each opportunity invites a chance to learn something about myself. They also instill within me a respect for nature that often goes ignored. This may be the ultimate lesson of these two books. Nature deserves to be feared, respected, cherished, and enjoyed; when answering the “Call of the Wild,” striking the right balance is key.
Be good to each other,