"Out of the Shadow": Wilderness Therapy in The Source of All Things and Wild
Abstract: In this essay, I examine how Tracy Ross and Cheryl Strayed, while seemingly echoing the American wilderness tradition, deviate from male-dominated wilderness discourse when they recollect their hiking experiences in the wilderness. Ross's The Source of All Things (2011) and Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012), both stories of how the subject structures the world by "encountering" and "framing" nature, evoke what Peter Zhang describes as "interology/interality," a process of "interbeing and becoming" (2015, p. 59) in which culture and nature mingle in such a middle place. In their memoirs, both female authors detail their experiences of spiritual trauma, one due to sexual violation committed by her stepfather and the other due to the loss of her mother, and both choose to "enter" the wilderness (Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska for Ross and the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State for Strayed) to come to terms with their devastating loss and trauma. I argue that setting off on their journeys to the wilderness in their lives marked a critical break from their past ways of thinking. Nature is a catalyst, and the wilderness is a contact zone or a gray area where both novels, which are alert to the insufficiency of reductionist rationality, not only accentuate the corporeal and spiritual potentialities of the wilderness but also create a new ethical relationship, evoking an "intrapsychic terrain" that leads to "a psycho-alchemical transmutation of the elements from a state of disorder and conflict" to a state of "interbeing and becoming."
Keywords: Interality, interology, wilderness therapy, a middle place, ecopsychology, ecofeminism
Since the writings of American naturalist John Muir, wilderness preservation and wilderness discourses have occupied their significant positions in ecocriticism and environmental humanities. Disagreeing that the wilderness has become an image of "Mother Nature," a synonym for the role of "the protectress, the provider, the nurturer" in the imaginations of radical white male environmentalists, ecofeminist Linda Vance is suspicious of such gendered nature metaphors by questioning, "I think about all this as I hike through the woods: no man's mother, or wife, or virgin, but merely a bad and unruly broad, am I safe? The answer, of course, is no" (Vance, 1993, p. 132).
The primary objective of this essay is to find therapeutic voices from the perspective of environmental humanities under the slow violence caused by globalized industrialization. The essay attempts to explore the significance of the wilderness in the era of Anthropocene without falling into gender-blind mentalities. Nina Roberts in "Wilderness as therapy for women" shares Vance' s concerns by asking: "how can women benefit from wilderness experiences? How safe is the wilderness?" (1995, p. 26). The essay explores the questions of whether the wilderness has a therapeutic function and whether "risk and adventure enhance[s] women's self-esteem" (Cole, Erdman & Rothblum, 1994, p. 2).
In this essay, I examine how Tracy Ross and Cheryl Strayed, while seemingly echoing the American wilderness tradition, deviate from male-dominated...