I was recently at my local independent bookstore, Webster’s, and checking out the outdoor adventure section to see what I could find to pair with Into the Wild, since I’ll be teaching it for the first time in 15 years. I found this book of essays by women, compiled by the editor of the magazine Solo. Going Alone was a fabulous find for two reasons: 1. it reminded me how much I missed all my own outdoor adventures and 2. I found some excellent essays to use in class.
The first reason I really enjoyed these essays was the overall concept: essays by women who liked to be outside alone. As a young woman, I hiked on the Appalachian Trail for 3 weeks solo, I snowboarded up in Vermont alone, and I would often go out on my mountain bike by myself. In the last few years, my outdoor adventures have waned, so reading about women bicycling across France or fishing in the Alaskan wilds, or fixing up a dilapidated boat reminded me how much I savored that time alone in the natural world. I especially enjoyed Geneen Haugen’s essay “In the Tracks of the Old Ones” as she explored her relationship with the wild as she ages. She says “A reasonable person knows that age means more, not less. At least the mind knows this. But how many carry the confidence or years gracefully, without apology or regret?” While I enjoyed this piece, and others, I realized my students may not find the same connections I might have.
There were, however, a number of essays I felt would work well with my students and offer a female perspective of being in the wild to compare to Christopher McCandless’s experiences. The very first essay, “White Rabbit,” by Holly Keith, explores the beauty of snowshoeing alone up in the White Mountains and the satisfaction of being self-reliant. Also, since I’ll be starting my class with teaching Jack London’s “To Build A Fire,” I will follow that up with Barbara Euser’s “Unanticipated Snow Cave,” where she becomes stranded on a mountain and must dig a hole in the snow. At one point she writes “I thought of Jack London’s story. Would the roof of my mini-cave collapse if I lit the candle?” This allusion will allow for a discussion of how literature impacts us and creates a certain mythos in our culture.
This collection of essays was refreshing to read–I am also reminded of how much I miss the elements of creative non-fiction, and I have resolved to read more collections of essays for the rest of the year.
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary