Into the Bathroom

I can distinctly remember moments as a child when I wanted to “run away”. Although I never actually mustered up enough bravery to pack up my bandana sack and hit the road, I once tricked my parents into thinking their Lukie Pookie had run away. I couldn’t have been much older then six. I had gotten in trouble at school for calling a girl a bad name, but it wasn’t my fault because girls had coodies and all. My parents were going to make me to call Elle Oats, the girl I had upset, and tell her I was sorry. I refused to call, and when my parents said I couldn’t leave my room until I called I proudly declared, “I’m running away!” It was more of a symbolic endeavor. I wanted to prove to my parents that I was my own boss. I can’t say that I enjoyed the time hiding in between the toilet and the bathroom wall but I remember it feeling quite exhilarating. There I was, a young boy, no, a young man, fleeing from his tortuous life and scaling the walls of the high security penitentiary also know as his bedroom, only to see refuge in a bathroom down the hall. After a three-hour stand I eventually emerged from hiding, crying and hungry, realizing that home wasn’t so bad after all. I’ve never run away since.
I used to think that the idea of running away was childish. However it has since occurred to me that “grown-up’s” run away too, and sometimes for the same reasons. Just like I wanted to prove a point to my parents, people who run away often wish to prove a point to society, or even themselves. Often times this occurs when people run away from society and civilized life and attempt to “survive” in nature. This attempt at survival is one of the purest forms of challenge a human can pursue.
John Krakauer’s Into The Wild tells the real life story of Christopher “Alexander Supertramp” McCandless, who after graduating from Emory University decided to give away his life savings, become vagabond, and venture “into the wild”. His travels would take him through California, Arizona, South Dakota, and Alaska, where he would eventually die trying to live in the wilderness of Denali National Park. Although some people think that McCandless went “into the wild” in order to flee from society and normal life, most argue that McCandless was drawn to the challenge of surviving in nature. Alaskan Park Ranger Peter Christian believes that McCandless’s demise in Denali was all too predictable. He writes,
“I am exposed continually to what I will call the ‘McCandless Phenomenon.’ People, nearly always-young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are practically nonexistent. When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail without even a map of the area. Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide.”
The “McCandless syndrome”, as he calls it, is a perfect example of nature being viewed as a challenge. When McCandless walked into Denali it was just McCandless vs. Denali.
The Alaskan wilderness is no place for the feeble. Out there you can’t go to the grocery store and pick up some dinner when you get hungry. Things can easily turn into a nightmare out in the wilderness, what’s worse is that you can’t just wake up. Just like Christian said, “possibility of rescue is nonexistent.” Perhaps this challenge was what McCandless was seeking when he decided to “survive” Denali.
McCandless is not the only man to every seek challenge in nature. Over 2,700 people have attempted to reach the summit of Mt Everest, the pinnacle of the world. Only about 660 have successfully reached the peak. Since the first climb by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, 210 people have perished trying to climb the mountain. I’ve always wondered why anyone would want to climb up to an elevation of 29,029 where no creatures can sustain life. What is there to gain in climbing Everest anyway? Bragging rights? There is no grand prize awarded to summiteers, unless you are Edmund Hillary, who was rewarded with the title Sir Edmund Hillary. Or maybe its knowing that you did something most people would never dream of doing. Climbing Mt. Everest must make you feel a sort of invincibility. When Edmund Hillary conquered Everest he became a Sir to the public but a King to himself. Could McCandless too have desired this self-worth, and looked to the conquest of Denali to provide him with inner-dignity?
Timothy Treadwell of Grizzly Man also seemed to have something to prove to the world, and quite possibly himself. Treadwell’s motifs for venturing into nature and living with the brown bears were very different then McCandless’s reasons for living in Denali. Treadwell, a self proclaimed “eco-warrior” and bear enthusiast, spent thirteen summers living with grizzly bears in Katmai National Park, Alaska. During this time he recorded over 100 hours of film and amassed a large collection of photographs of the bears. Treadwell claimed to be “protecting” the bears and studying them, however the Alaskan park service repeatedly had grievances with Treadwell and claim that he continually broke laws about interaction with the bears that were originally designed to protect the bears. On his thirteenth expedition Treadwell, and his girl friend that was with him on the expedition, were killed and eaten by one or two bears. Treadwell’s story and parts of the tapes he recorded were turned into the Werner Herzog documentary Grizzly Man.
“I beat your fucking ass’s! I protected the animals! Fuck you park service. I did it! Animals rule, Timothy conquered!” Just like McCandless may have wanted to conquer, Treadwell too mentions conquering when speaking to his own camera at the end of expedition 2001. However he sees his conquest as his “victory” over society and the park service rather then over nature. Treadwell essentially considers himself one with nature. As we have learned from his footage of his time spent with the bears he placed anthropomorphic values on the bears and interacted with them as if he too was an animal. In his film he repeatedly states the confidence he has that the bears wont attack him saying, “They wouldn’t hurt me.” yet ironically it would be a bear that would claim his life. His humanization of the animals raises questions of why he really came the Katmai National Park. Treadwell claimed he was there to protect the bears and to study them. However Herzog points out that Treadwell first got involved with bears when he almost died form near heroin overdose. According to friends of Treadwell, the bears were like a coping mechanism for Treadwell, as the relationships he formed with them helped him to get over his drug addiction. This is not to say that Treadwell was “using” the bears selfishly or in a wrong way, but rather to suggest that maybe he was fleeing from his troubled life in society and taking refuge in nature, rather then leaving his home and coming into the wild to protect the helpless bears. For Treadwell nature offers refuge. However, ironically this refuge would eventually take Treadwell’s life.
If there’s one quick lesson to learn from McCandless and Treadwell its, “don’t be stupid and try to survive in nature, because humans cant do it.” Maybe this is true and maybe humans are indeed not able to “conquer” the wild. Or perhaps it is not important. I can’t help but question whether McCandless and Treadwell’s deaths were actually tragedies. Something tells me that both would almost have wished for their ends. McCandless had left life as a regular man in search of a greater challenge. What he found in the Alaskan wilderness was the ultimate one. Without his death his journey would almost seem incomplete. As for Treadwell he may have wished to perish like he did even more so then McCandless. In fact some even go so far as to say that he tried to get himself eaten. I believe rather that his death was an accident but what he would have wished to happen. Treadwell wanted to believe that he was as much of an animal as any of the bear he was “friends” with. And death by bear is maybe one of the most natural ways to die.
I find myself somewhat fascinated and intrigued by people’s attempts to run away and “survive” in nature. I’m not sure if what I did as a kid would even qualify as running away, let alone running away to nature. Into The Bathroom would have to be the title of my book. Yet it seems that everyone at some point in their lifetime has an urge to run away or escape. For Treadwell and McCandless nature offers a desirable challenge or refuge that life in society cannot.


Frass vs. Grass vs. Rupi vs. Thayer

Yesterday during class we were asked to write about the “frass”. It got me think about why we got the frass. Reasons like the cost of maintenance and practicality came to mind. I wondered what the decision to get “frass” said about Menlo. It seems to me that the frass was chosen because it is easier to control. The last thing Menlo wants is to have to shell out thousands of dollars for maintaining a huge lawn in the quad. The frass is lifeless: it doesn’t grow, doesn’t get muddy when it rains, and doesn’t have worms crawling around in it. Grass, on the other hand, is all of these things. It is fertile and beaming with life. So why wouldn’t Menlo choose frass over grass, it’s practically perfect right? I began to think that Menlo had made a huge mistake getting frass. How typical! Grass would have been the honorable choice. But then I wondered if it would in fact be any different if we had real grass. If we did indeed have real grass growing all over our quad would we not cut it? And would this not make us just the same as the Frassian Menloites? There’s no way we would just let the grass grow as it pleases, we would have to maintain it. This realization was quite dreary. Do we, as humans, inevitably have to control/maintain/domesticate everything we encounter or is there some place or instance where humans and nature can co-exist harmoniously? Better yet is there a place or instance where Humans are willingly controlled by nature? Thayer Walker’s Hello Kitty is an article about a Bolivian animal-rehab center and the animals and volunteers who spend time there. What makes the center Outside magazine special worthy is the fact that un-trained volunteers are responsible for walking some of the worlds most skilled predators on a leash for 3 and a half hours a day. Walker spent 10 days at the center and was lucky enough to take of Rupi, a 260-pound alpha male leopard. During his ten days there Walker realizes first hand the sheer preditorial dominance these animals posses. As an alpha male Rupi wished this dominance to be known by his new walking partner, Thayer. Walker describes how he was tackled and nearly eaten by Rupi. Rupi is able to control Walker with such ease, but what makes Rupi’s dominance even more scary is that he was merely teasing Walker and showing him who was boss. I can’t even imagine what would happen if Rupi’s killer instincts took over. This is a perfect example of an instance where nature is completely dominant over man. Unlike Menlo and the frass it is Rupi, nature, that is doing the controlling and maintaining. However Thayer complicates this idea of roll reversals by mentioning the controversy surrounding the rehab center. He questions whether the center is “a black hole of rational thought, a crazy patch of jungle where common sense goes to die? Or is this a center of enlightenment, where compassionate people care for animals with tortured pasts and repent for the sins of humanity?” Will Humans ever be able to accept nature’s dominance? Or will we continue to cut the grass and buy frass? TO BE CONTINUED… btw mama puggs is Thayer  single? Hes only 30…. and your like 24ish… haaaalooowwww!!!


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Sublime vs. Pastoral

Humans seem to have a habit of labeling things. We just love to be able to make sweeping generalizations and say, “all this is ________”. There is no better example of this then idea of Sublime nature vs. Pastoral nature. In my experience neither of the two can exist alone. This is to say that in essence they should not be split up into two separate entities. It seems to me that the categorizing nature as either sublime or pastoral helps us feel as if we fully understand a frankly un-understandable force. It is so Ironic that by simply calling “sublime” nature sublime we have succeeding in labeling/understanding the un-understandable force that the “sublime is supposed to be. During the enlightenment period philosophers began to promote the “human potential”. Essentially they argued that with our logic and reason humans could conquer any endeavor, including nature. Scientists began to argue that the natural world was in fact governed by a set of laws and rules that humans could very well understand. Although the idea of the sublime, a force of nature so powerful it cannot be understood, emerged in a response to the enlightenment movement I still feel that the idea of actually labeling nature “sublime” is tremendously ironic. As humans are we simply un-able to accept the fact that there are some things, like nature, that we may never fully understand? Or do we hope that by applying labels and placing nature into categories we can somehow feel as if we do understand?


It seems that for Tom nature often reflects his mood. At the start of chapter thirteen nature is described as a “cold world.” this is right after tom leaves aunt Polly and heads off to nature looking for shelter and escape. however here we see how nature is harsh and at first offers no such shelter. Although this is not the typical “sublime” description of a powerful and awesome force of nature, it is closer to that then a pastoral nature. In chapter ten we also see how the darkness and emptiness of the night scares Tom. this is the scene where tom and Huck witness the murder when they have snuck away from home at night. Again we see how the fear Tom experiences from witnessing the murder is reflected in the mysteriousness of nature. Almost opposite to these depictions of nature is the description of the woods in chapter eight. In this scene Tom runs off into the woods and sits and dreams about pirates and bandits, the rebellious lifestyles he wishes he could take up. Here nature takes a more pastoral role. “Nature lay in a trance that was broken by no sound but the occasional far-off hammering of a woodpecker, and this seemed to render the pervading silence and sense of loneliness the more profound.” Here we see how nature is still and silent almost as if it is sleeping, much like tom who is sitting in the woods dreaming. The passage continues to say “his feelings were in happy accord with his surroundings.” This suggests that it is nature that sets Toms mood and not the other way around. Maybe it is Toms mood that reflects natures mood instead of the other way around.