Katie Roycroft

Fading Naturalism

Huge cities sit still as hoards of people clamber about. Technology swirls around in grey blurs, smothering any hue of emotion. Blackberries buzz, and laptop keys click. Many eyes elude any life form within sight. Suits swing their leather briefcases, designer heels click on the pavement, all consumed by an inconsequential hierarchy of menial jobs. No one stops to help the child who has been severed from her mother’s warm embrace, or pauses to donate to the elderly woman who cannot afford her medication. Instead, they march as drones, connected to nothing but their headphones, their thumbs seemingly glued to phones. No one lifts lethargic eyes from the slick slabs of pavement or bright screens long enough to view the vibrant sun in the cerulean sky, or the folding mountains beckoning just outside the city. Modern lives are consumed with the superfluous and are growing farther from hope, love, adventure, authenticity, beauty, and humanity.

Today, there exists no greater diametric opposite than humanity and nature. Chris McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, made the incredible decision to protest such a theory in an admirable journey. He ventured to Alaska to discover a way of living that has long evaded us. The majority of human lives revolve around money and status. In an attempt to further immerse himself in his new life, McCandless burned his money and abandoned his car, thus entirely separating himself from common plutocracy (Krakauer 29). While detailing a similar experience to McCandless’s, Krakauer discusses the feelings attributed to submersion in naturalistic living, “The accumulated clutter of the day-to-day existence- the lapses of conscience, the unpaid bills, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the inescapable prison of your genes- all of it is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose…” (143). McCandless’s animalistic lifestyle differs from  our current definition of human life. Rather than being devoured by the triviality of technology that clouds our lives, he came to focus on the vital necessities of survival. Regardless of how much information our laptops can output or how many contacts are stored in our smart-phones, these things are no substitute for sincere emotion, proximity to nature, or tangible experiences.

McCandless lived by morals that transcend the commonalities of others, both while in the wild and in society. Before leaving home, it was apparent he possessed a passion for nature that most considered extraneous. While on the cross country team in high school, he would lead runs without maps or technology, forcing other students to get lost in nature, and to push themselves, exploring their limits and surroundings (112). As a result, they were forced to focus solely on the moment versus any interruption by technology.

Despite the levels to which McCandless cared for his own well-being, he respected the lives of the forgotten and seemingly mundane as well. While his peers would indulge in parties, games, and drinking alcohol, McCandless  would go to the city to feed the homeless (113).Technology should not exist in lieu of compassion or human life. McCandless knew this; the respect he had for life journeyed with him to Alaska. After hunting a moose and failing to make use of the meat, he was devastated for taking a life without due purpose (167). His devotion to his lifestyle led to an admirable independence; “…He wanted to make it on his own” (159). He held to his dream; he disregarded urbanized society in a manner that took a level of passionate defiance. He allowed no detrimental belief instilled by society to deter him from what he believed was right; something most will never do.

McCandless connected to how life was meant to be. He ran from industrialism back to our roots. He had not forgotten that humans were still animals, creatures who had created a false world. His connection to nature was evident early on. At eight years old, he took his first backpacking trip; a few years later, he fed similar hunger by pleading with his father to continue climbing a mountain in excess of 14,000 feet (109). His unique desire for nature and abhorrence for what he came to define as an egomaniacal society fed his connection to deeper meanings.

The society McCandless fled has allowed itself to be ruled by a plethora of technology to help us live comfortably. Though modern inventions greatly ease the difficulties of survival, there exists no such need, as people have come to concentrate less on how to sustain life and more on meaningless technology. Wants have blended with needs. Life has become unnaturally easy, and detached from its origins. McCandless’s life offered sight to true revolution, and the meaning of living. He was able to focus on the essential, the relevant, and his dreams. Many have admonished his choices because they fail to recognize the validity in his reasoning. McCandless sought what we have given up on; he managed to secede from heartless technology. He reveled in exquisite nature and its inseparable role in our subsistence.

 Works Cited

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor, 1996.  Print