The Hard Way

I recently read a book called The Hard Way: Stories of Danger, Survival, and the Soul of Adventure by Mark Jenkins. Jenkins used to have a monthly column called “The Hard Way” for Outside, which alone made that magazine worth buying during his run. I enjoyed every essay, and found myself noting several passages. This first one in particular I could have written about my own relationship with writing and the world:

I cannot get enough of the world. To smell it, walk through it, sink the teeth of my mind into it. I am not a writer who began writing at the age of eight in a little room at a little desk and dreamed of being a novelist. At eight I was flying on a bicycle through the pungent sagebrush in the red hills beyond the edge of town.

I love that passage. In my case, I was running roughshod over what seemed like endless acres of fields lined with pines, accompanied by a couple big dogs. But the sentiment is the same, absolutely.

Now Jenkins is the type of adventurer I don’t really wish to be; for example, I really don’t have any interest in the type of mountain climbing that requires tons of equipment and finds one defying death right out of the gate. But I do envy his world travels. That said, I think this quote is interesting. And exciting, frankly:

If you travel enough, something bad will happen to you. This is not a probability, this is a certainty. To desperate people, hurt people, helpless people — the world is full of these — you are an opportunity, not an individual. You are who they are waiting for. The moment you arrive their plan goes into effect. If you are lucky you will lose nothing that can’t be easily replaced: a wallet, a camera, a car. These are not things to mourn. Go home, go back to work, replace them, be thankful. If you are unlucky, however, you will be hurt. The bruises and cuts and the bones will heal, but you will be changed forever.

I take that as a reminder that the world, as beautiful as it is, remains a dangerous place. One must always be alert. I don’t have any desire to live a life that is always 100% safe. We get sucked into that sense of security, and the weight of it can be overwhelming. Here is a separate passage from a different essay, that nonetheless speaks to a similar sentiment:

Adulthood is an insidious process of accretion. If you’re not vigilant, you begin to grow a shell, a carapace that you are expected to carry lightly: the rigid, high-stress hull of security, status, status quo. The thicker the better, right up until it crushes you. On the inside, whether you can still feel it or not, your soul is trying to claw its way out.

Two pages later, in the same essay:

What all grubby anthropologists worth their weight in bones already know, and what too many urban philosophers haven’t figured out, is that humans evolved as hardy outdoor animals. Two million years of running naked across the veld hardwired us for life in the wilderness. Confine humans in a cage, physical or psychological, and like every other creature on this good earth, we become flaccid, febrile, feckless.

Julia and I discuss that regularly, how surly and unsettled we become if we spend too many days cooped up in the house. This afternoon, after we were both beating our heads against the tyranny of creativity (and we all know that’s how it feels sometimes), we took an hour to drive across town and labor up the M and back down. It’s nothing we haven’t done many, many times before . . . but that brief conversation with the chill air and the breeze and the contrast of setting sun and gray clouds was enough to invigorate our moods. So simple a solution to the oppression of comfort, but so easily forgotten too.

Finally, in an essay about pull-ups, of all things — a form of exercise which currently confounds and defeats me that I nonetheless attack again and again, slowly gaining ground — he says this:

To do a pull-up, you must lift the entire weight of your body off the ground. It is as if you have raised your arms in jubilation and then must bring your body up with your spirit. It is an angelic act, a strenuous act. It goes against gravity. Against the will of the truth.

Great stuff. I’m better for having read Mark’s work, and I’m happy every time a new essay appears on my radar.

Leave a Reply