A notebook entry.
This week I’ve felt drawn to stories of people lost in the wilderness. I can’t remember how it started. I’ve been doing my work, but also, there is this. There was the California couple who went for a quick evening stroll on Valentines Day a few years back and ended up off trail, in the dark, unable to find their way, spending more than a week trapped in the dense coastal underbrush; hallucinating, holding hands, surviving on sips from a puddle of muddy water. Then there are the point-and-shoot selfies of Chris McCandless, the doomed subject of Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, who went into the Alaskan wilderness to live off the land and slowly starved to death. The photos reveal a young man in a plaid shirt and patched jeans, gradually wasting away. I had the thought that maybe these selfies are too dark to write about. Why write about this? For what purpose? These self-portraits of a man who would never see another human being again. He would not even get to see the photographs, developed only after his death; that wild look in his eye, the spooky elation. They are images like a dark well of madness, with a heartbeat, like the beating heart of a bird, caught in the hand. I don’t know, but I have been dreaming of birds lately. Injured birds, that I then have to rescue. I succeed and I don’t succeed. Warblers, vireos, wrens. They graze my shoulders with their spray of feathers. That twitch of wings against my palms. They can’t always be rescued. They fall prey to dream-logic. They disappear, become gnats instead, too small to grab hold of. But in my dreams, a bird that was cold and deflated can be warmed and spring to life again. In the first story, the couple held hands and clung to one another in the dark woods. Concealed by vegetation, they were invisible to the search helicopters whirring overhead. When they were finally found, nine days later, hypothermic but still alive, they could hardly believe it. They were lifted out of the thicket by air.
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