Hiking Solo on Christmas DayDecember 25, 2014
For nearly two years now, I have been avoiding reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, pronouncing her name Stray-ed. She was too young, too smart, too talented and she’d written a memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, solo. Here’s what I knew about the Pacific Crest Trail. It had something to do with John Muir; it was on the opposite coast from where I lived. It was and wasn’t like the Appalachian Trail, portions of which I hiked on my day trips into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I, too, loved to hike. And like Strayed, I was a solo hiker. When Wild came out, I’d just written a failed memoir. She’d just written a highly successful memoir. I was jealous. And spiteful, the kid of whom my mother used to say, “You’ll cut off your nose to spite your face.”
But how was I supposed to get a memoir like Wild that out of my boring, conventional, and yes, now, long life? My mother hadn’t died when I was twenty-two. I hadn’t spiraled down into drugs and sex. Besides, I was sick of abuse and trauma memoirs—probably because I didn’t have one to write.
Now, the movie was out, and friends were making plans to see the film on Christmas Day. Usually, I spent Christmas Day hiking, Mount A, the small mountain in the town where I lived or away with my family. But this Christmas my family headed out west ahead of me. My choice. I was staying home with Sam, my beloved Standard Poodle, until my dog sitter returned from Christmas with her family.
I made plans with friends. We’d hike Mount A, then order Chinese food. It’s what we Jews do on Christmas, eat Chinese food. But the forecast was for rain. My friends decided to go see Wild. No hike. I can’t see a movie without reading the book first. I read for two days. I loved the book. I loved Cheryl Strayed. I am writing a book of essays about Jews and Vichy France, weaving my own story into that story, and Cheryl Strayed gave me a gift. She spoke to me in her honest, clear voice, and I saw my own work in a new way. I’d thought my subject, which touched on the Holocaust, had come to me out of the blue, but reading Wild, I saw that Jews and the Second World War were inevitably mine. I just needed to dig deeper in my life to find the connections, and they came to me as I read.
So today, on Christmas morning I finished Wild. I called my friends. I would not be seeing the movie. I loved the book too much. I needed to savor it and to let it work on my imagination. I would hike rain or shine. But now, the rain has stopped. Sun lights the grass. It will light my trail. Others want to join me. I’ve said, no. Today, Sam and I will hike solo. We’ll join them later for Chinese take-out.
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