“The ghostly winter silence had given way to the great spring murmur of awakening life.”
Recently I discovered that one of my favourite books was available as an audio-book on Spotify. So when I’m plugged in to my music at my desk at work and bopping away to the wonderful sounds of Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd and Jackson Browne, I may occasionally put an audio-book on and get lost in the world of words. I recently finished Jules Verne’s ‘Around The World In 80 Days‘ and whilst flicking through the small library of audio-books on Spotify, up popped the wonderful ‘The Call of the Wild‘ by Jack London, written in 1903 but just as powerful now as it was then. A book that also inspired Christopher McCandless to travel and live self sufficiently in Alaska at the age of 20 which is documented in the book ‘Into The Wild’. I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it or watched the film, but it didn’t end well.
At this point I’ll mention that this isn’t just going to be a book review. Stick with me here, and you’ll see how the themes in ‘The Call of the Wild’ are certainly relatable and can also be very inspirational.
‘The Call of the Wild’ is about a dog. It’s not a story told by the dog and the dog doesn’t talk. It’s about the dog, and the dog is called Buck. I won’t be rewriting Jack London’s work here, just giving a slight synopsis and discussing where we all fit in. So for the moment, pretend you’re a dog. Or actually, pretend the dog is a human. Either way, it’s about a dog.
For the first four years of his life, Buck lived on a ranch in America, lazing out in the sun, and doing very little else. A nice lazy life. No experience of the bigger world and no knowledge of anything beyond the ranch. One day he’s sold to a man who, in an apparent attempt to train him, begins beating him, puts him in a cage and throws him on a long haul train to Canada where he is handed over to two couriers who run a dog sled team.
As with any newcomer to a wolf pack, or sled dog pack, Buck isn’t welcomed with open arms; he is immediately challenged and put in his place – right at the bottom of the pack. Buck had no experience of the wild so learnt his lesson the hard way by fighting back and finally, with a few injuries to foot, fell into his spot. The lesson was soon hammered home when he witnessed another new dog join the team only to be killed immediately and torn to shreds by the pack.
Sled dogs are not pets and, no matter the circumstance, are never treated as such. They sleep outside the tents in the blizzards, the rain and the snow, all year round. In the wild, wolves, as well as digging small dens, make nests (this can be seen in your domestic dog when they walk around and around in a circle trying to get comfy). The sled dogs dig a nest in the deep snow low enough that the wind blows over the top of them and that their body heat is maintained, much like an igloo but without a roof. The snow then eventually fills in on top and they become buried, which is actually very warm. Feeding time is also a very risky occasion in a pack of wolves for all involved, unless you’re the top dog of course. The lower your rank the less food the others will leave, until the very bottom where you have to learn to eat very fast before another one eats your ration. For Buck, gaining this knowledge and experience meant losing any domestication he once had.
The couriers who were now in control of Buck reached their destination and left the pack to be taken up by another sled runner. The next team of humans were complete amateurs who could barely organise and run their own lives let alone a pack of sled dogs. Long story short, these new humans had totally forgotten that they had to feed and water the pack but still ran them thousands of miles. They became weak and skeletal, on the very brink of death, before reaching the next town.
Here, the alpha male of the pack became aggressive towards Buck and tried to kill him, however Buck managed to defend himself and kill the alpha when it got to the stage of kill or be killed. This earned him respect amongst the other dogs who began to fall in line behind him instead – this would be Bucks first kill of many.
When it was time to leave this new town the dogs were all laying motionless on the snow, nothing but bags of bones with an ever decreasing heartbeat. Assuming them to simply be lazy, the team began to whip them, paying particular attention to Buck, to the point where he was aware he was being whipped but the pain ceased and he felt nothing. A local man named John, who was watching in disbelief immediately got to his feet, cut Buck from the reins and knocked the man off his feet. Picking himself up, he forced the rest of the pack to move on, however a few hundred yards down the track, they fell through the ice and never returned.
Much like the relationship between myself and my own dog, Buck never left John’s side once he had recovered. However, he eventually felt his natural wolf like instincts return and would wander into the forest for days, only returning to John for a small time before vanishing once again. One evening, when out in the forest, he encountered a wolf who tried to get Buck to follow him back to his own pack. However, something stopped Buck and he returned to try and find John but found the camp in complete ruin, attacked by native Indians and John’s lifeless body amongst the rest.
All ties that Buck once had with society and his domestication had all but diminished over the period from leaving the ranch up to the very last tie that was John. He had learnt to hunt, track and stalk like a wolf and now everything in his nature was wild. He found the pack of wild wolves, made jolly good friends and lived happily ever after as the alpha male of this wild wolf pack.
So, if you’re still reading this and haven’t gotten bored and closed the page down, you may wonder why I’ve put you through the torment of my failing to explain a rather simple book to you. Well allow me to tell you why.
I asked earlier that you try to pretend you’re a dog, Buck in fact. Especially if you’re one of these people who doesn’t know the outside world and the wonders of the wilderness. Very much like Buck. He was thrown into the wild against his will and, through various extreme and harsh lessons and experiences, his connection to society and his domestic instincts whittled away completely, moulding him to become one with the wilderness.
Like the wolf pack, with their ranks, the human species is similar in some aspects. I mentioned earlier that, when it comes to food for the wolf, the higher the rank, the more food. For us, it seems that maybe economically, the wealthier, higher class you are, the easier life may come for you. The lower you are, the more challenges you face, the more the elite almost step on the lower to maintain their position. Similar to something I know as quite simply, ‘the shit tree’.
The more I think about this, the more I understand why some people would be more than happy to give up on society and get back to our instinctive, natural lives. Myself included. There’s a lot going around, and has been going around for a while, about the wealthy becoming wealthier and the poorer becoming poorer, but at the end of the day, in my opinion, money has ruined everything that life actually has given us. But that’s a totally different topic and debate.
It’s not just a case of, ‘sod it, I’ll live in the woods’, it’s more a case of taking that step back, looking at what the human race has become and wondering, ‘what the hell has happened?’
In the same way that Buck learnt all his lessons, nest building and hunting for example, everything that is actually instinctive to a dog is also innate in humans. Our own natural instincts keep us alive and come into play without us even realising it. ‘Fight or flight’, fears, desires, emotional contagion (if you’re sad, I’m sad) and so much more. Even reactions such as blushing and yawning all span from that caveman who is still sat inside all of our brains. All you need to do is light a fire and watch as everyone around it becomes hypnotised, demonstrating our intrinsic, prehistoric tendencies.
Sadly this caveman is becoming blinded by smartphone screens and bored of sitting in front of the TV all day, and may one day just decide to get up and leave you to it. How would we survive without those reactions though? Seriously interesting stuff to read into if you want to. If we tuned ourselves back into these instincts, like Buck did, we would find it easier to live and thrive in the wild in the way that our ancestors did many years ago.
McCandless was, as we all have been, born into the domesticated, modern world. Grew up with the comforts, went to school, graduated from University and lived the same lives as we all do. As some of us do, he still just had that deep, natural burning fire to get back to the wild and reconnect. This is where the story of Buck inspired the young Chris to leave society behind. He burnt his money, abandoned his car and made his way into the wilderness of Alaska to also become one with nature, live off the earth and be totally self sufficient. His diary, which makes up the book ‘Into the Wild‘ isn’t just inspiring but also fascinating, reading his own words about not just the great sense of freedom he had, but towards the end, his very true fears and emotions when he realised that his days were numbered and he knew he would die. His last words in his diary were ‘beautiful berries’ after a long period of starvation. This was written on day 107, the following 7 days were made up of illiterate scrawlings. Reading through the book numerous times, there are definitely points where he could have avoided this frightful end and made mistakes that were preventable. However, to somebody like me, even though Chris’ life came to an untimely devastating end, his story is an inspiration. He had the will and the passion to leave everything behind; his family, friends, comfort and the everyday routines of life, to return to the wild, live by his natural instincts and resort to the life that he felt he needed and part of me thinks that, even though he died, he would have been content knowing that he did so in that environment, doing what he set out to do.
This isn’t the typical type of article I set out to write on my site, but something that may just make you stop and think. Something that might make you realise that as a species, humans did not evolve to just laze in the comforts of technology, preprepared food and designer clothes. Everything that we originally evolved to do and live by is actually still out there, and with the right will and passion, it’s still doable. Sadly however, the people who want to, or actually do it successfully are seen to be peculiar and most definitely in the minority.
So that was clearly a productive afternoon in the office..
“Don´t hesitate or allow yourself to make excuses. Just get out and do it. You will be very, very glad that you did.”- Christopher McCandless
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