Sliding

I walked on slippery sidewalks through tunnels of snow yesterday with the movie Into the Wild perched in my purse. No buses were running and the streets were not really plowed. Most were ice rinks. I was walking to the subway to get to the university to teach my classes.

I passed three men working hard in front of an apartment building with blue turrets. They had a little tractor and spades—digging the ice up. Then, I slipped past a wall full of ivy filled with sparrows chattering. And a little boy bundled into his mother’s arms. Once I got to school, I forded icy rivers and walked across roads, polished and slick, into the classroom.

I’ve watched Into the Wild many times and this time I like Chris McCandless. Sometimes when watch it I see my son taking off like that for two years, and my heart twists. This time I remembered how much fun it was to get lost in the Idaho wilderness one summer. Hardly anyone knew where I was. It was only for a week or so, but it was thrilling to be perched on the top of a ridge, wind blowing music into my ears and snow biting my face, and no one else around for miles.

“You’re a nature girl, then,” one of my students said.

“Don’t I look like a nature girl?”

“No,” he said, “well maybe your scarf. It has flowers on it.”

Today my son wants to go sledding. This is a kid who jumps off rocks and skis down narrow couloirs. “Lots of people get hurt sledding,” I said.

“Mom,” he said, “are you nuts? You’re the one who used to take me sledding and watch me run into the road.”

“Well, yes,” I said, “but I’m stressed out now. You just got into college and kids drink and sled.”

“No mom, it’s sex and sledding.”

I’m hoping it’s not because I have problems with my “ecological unconscious.” Too much noise, too little open space. I’m teaching an article from the New York Times, and the author, Daniel Smith, explains, “…ecopsychologists tend to focus on the pathological aspect of the mind-nature relationship: it’s brokenness.” Smith mentions a therapist in Portland, Oregon, Thomas Doherty, who “runs a practice called Sustainable Self.” Doherty, Smith says, is worried “about perpetuating a false dichotomy between the wilderness and the city.”

In my class, we’re just at the part in the movie where Alex, the name Chris has given himself to wander with, is coming back into the US through customs after kayaking in the Sea of Cortez. He has no identification papers—this is 1991—and he talks his way back into the country. He’s about to hop a train, get beaten up by railroad officials, and see an image of himself in the lighted window of a bar in LA., scrubbed and prosperous. He heads back out to the road and his journey to Alaska. He turns away from the city into the wild. If you’ve seen the movie, or read the book by Jon Krakauer that it’s based on, you know it’s not a happy ending.

“I’m going shopping later,” I tell my son.

“Ah, to make you feel better,” he says.

“Yes,” I say and give him a hug.

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