the call of the wild

Two interesting meditations on the call of the wild today, first the news that a TV ‘adventurer’ had to be airlifted out of the Canadian wilderness after succumbing to starvation.

Ed Wardle, an outdoors enthusiast, who has previously filmed up Everest and other really extreme places, had been filming a programme for Channel 4, where he attempted to survive in the Yukon with only a camera, rifle and fishing rod. It had been a truly solo expedition, not one of your Bear Grylls jobs, where a team of half a dozen people are camped a few meters from the intrepid explorer. Instead Wardle had to live on his own, hunting for his own food, and leaving messages and tapes for his production crew via a satellite phone and a dead letter box.

Wardle it transpires was not a survival expert, and perhaps had not received suitable training for his ordeal, five weeks before the end of his filming period, he called in a helicopter, having gotten to weak to carry on.

It’s no reflection on him, there are few people who would survive in such a place under such conditions, I know I’m not one of them.

The story is sadly reminiscent of the tragic tale of Christopher McCandless, whose tale is told so beautifully in the film ‘Into the Wild.’ Upon graduation Chris donated his savings to charity, and adopted the life of a vagrant, or vagabond, travelling America in a canoe, on foot, or by hobo railroad. If you havent seen the film, you should, its superb.

McCandless, who adopted the subriquet Alexander Supertramp, ended his life in Alaska, where he was attempting to live a solitary life, armed like Wardle, with only basic provisions. McCandless was motivated by his reading of writers like Jack London and Leo Tolstoy, these and other books have thrilled me too, although I am in no danger of disappearing into the outback, I do love the wild and ‘inhospitable’ places of our country and our planet, and can understand the draw to find one’s own place in them.

Sadly Chris McCandless died after apparently eating a poisonous plant, a mistake that might have not been fatal had he been able to get medical attention.

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LAuzT_x8Ek]

These same places were home to many of the early monastics, who found in their rugged isolation ‘thin places’ where the veil between heaven and earth was thin. The monastics  and many of the early Christians were people of the margins and the wild places, ironically the church has become the bastion of the centre and the comfortable classes.

The other story catching my eye on this same subject is George Monbiot’s essay on his adventures with a kayak and a fishing rod. Its a lovely piece of writing, painting a fascinating picture of one man’s yearning for the wild and the untamed, and his attempts to live in a way that is at one with nature. I admire and respect him more having read this essay. Once again it chimes with my own desires for a life which includes episodes of wildness, and self sufficiency. The small fishing rod which sits just behind me at this moment, waiting for a chance to be let loose on a quiet stretch of water bears witness to this.

In common with many others I love the risk, adventure, peace, solitude and sense of humanity that an encounter with the wild provides, we all need wildness in our lives, whether that is in a spiritual sense, or an every day sense (what is the difference anyway?)

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