7 June 2017

Sarah Marquis: Wild by Nature

Ahhhh adventure month on the blog. As I post this, there are only
eight more days until Meg and I venture out into Fundy National Park for a three day, backcountry hike. Sarah Marquis' book's full title is Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot. THREE YEARS! I mean if this woman can last three years we can at least last three days ... right? I should say right off the bat that I didn't LOVE this book, but it was still worth reading. I was really, really looking forward to it and after waiting for months for a softcover I decided to just shell out the $27 for the hardcover. Expectations were high.

There were a few reasons I didn't love this book, so I think I'll try making a list:

1. Lacking in Detail 

Non-fiction, long-term treks are one of my favourite genres. The reason I love them so much is because you end up learning so much from them ... you learn about the climate they were in, the tools they needed, and what drove them to embark on this "journey" in the first place. Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air is the perfect example ... there were whole chapters dedicated to Nepal and Tibet, symptoms of high-altitude climbing, descriptions of all the highest peeks in the world, etc. Marquis' book lacked a lot of detail. She didn't really talk about how she funded or organized her expedition, nor did she go into much detail about the countries she walked through.

I want like an index of the supplies she carried... I want a list of sponsors. I want to know every single thing they ate, every single day.

2. The "Spirit" Thing

I am not a spiritual person. I don't mind when this stuff is alluded to, and I understand a lot of people who don't "worship" traditional religious symbols often find solace in nature. I am also not one of those people. I like going for walks on the Bay of Fundy, but I wouldn't say I'm "grateful" for them. One thing that I found pretty cringe worthy about this book was how Marquis was CONSTANTLY referring to her "spirit." She does this by ending a lot (A LOT) of sub-sections with "thank you ... thank you ..."

It's honestly just a little too much.

During these three years of walking, in each country I will cross, independent of their language, their culture, or their social status, women will find a way to fill my walker's stomach [...] I draw away, my belly full, my heart breathing deeply ... Thank you, thank you ..."

3. Dead Dog

So I have read a great deal of these books, and the common thread for all of them is that their dog always dies. I mean it makes sense that these very outdoorsy, active people all have dogs. Dogs are easily the greatest companion. Marquis met her dog in Australia while she was on another expedition years before the events in this book took place. She says he is pretty much as close to a wild dingo as you can get. He followed her the entire trip and she ended up bringing him home to Switzerland with her.

I don't want to say Marquis was lucky, but at least her dog died at home (she didn't bring him on her trip because he was too old and had some mobility issues). The worst-expedition-dog-death was in Robyn Davidson's Tracks. Davidson's dog Diggity is with her for her entire year of preparation, and leaves on the trip across the Australian desert with her. She dies about two thirds into the trip... some asshole left out a bottle of carnosine and Diggity drinks it in the middle of the night. Davidson has to shoot her own dog. She describes her despair and loneliness in the most heartbreaking way.

I know I just wrote a full paragraph completely unrelated to this book, but what I'm trying to get at is that Marquis never really seems to write as elegantly as some of the other authors I've read in this field. I think the issue I had with this book is that Marquis doesn't seem to have the talent that Cheryl Strayed and Robyn Davidson do with a pen.

But enough about the things I didn't like, here are some things I did enjoy about the book:

1. Photos

This book is beautifully put together. There are like six or eight colour pages full of Marquis' photos. She does paint a clear portrait of her surroundings (which range from the desert to lush forests) but the photos are a really nice touch.

2. Her first Australian expedition

This is something I would like to see expanded into a book. In 2002 Marquis travelled to Australia to see "as a white woman, if I could survive in the Australian Outback, where Aborigines have survived for more  than sixty thousand years." It took her 17 months.

This trip is described in one large paragraph but I could happily read about it for ~300 pages. She talks about how this expedition taught her what it feels like to be truly hungry. I also really liked this aspect of her "experiment":

I pushed my desire to know my body and my mental and physical capacities incredibly far. I took on my expeditions with the same curiosity that's moved me since childhood, the curiosity of the unknown and an endless thirst for life in all its forms."

3. Mongolia

When I read this book all I knew about Mongolia was that it is sparse ... there are barely any people living there for the amount of space they have. Mongolia is one of the most detailed sections in Marquis' book and it was one of my favourite sections.

On this day, in central Mongolia, this woman gives me a marvelous gift: she reminds me that I am part of the planet's tribe of women. And that between them, women must help each other and not tear each other down."

In the end, I am still glad I read this book, and I think anyone who is interested in books about expeditions would be happy they read it too.

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