Symbols, Spirits, and Cheryl in “Wild”

Hey guys!

So in this post, I’ll be talking about how some archetypes in sections 3 and 4 of Wild help give us a different perspective on Cheryl’s journey. In my first post, I talked about how there was sort of a pathetic fallacy in that as the landscape Cheryl was hiking in was slowly changing and coming more alive, she was beginning to confront the internal struggles she was having and start to heal. In these two sections, she undergoes a much more significant change. She is becoming a better hiker, able to cover up to 19 miles in a day. She faces physical struggles such as vast amounts of icy snow in the High Sierras, her boots falling off the side of a cliff, running out of water in a desert part of the trail, and losing the trail altogether in a deforested section of the PCT. Cheryl also deals with quite a few very difficult internal challenges such as reflecting on becoming distant from her brother, sister, and stepfather Eddie, the violence and cruelty of her biological father and the effect which that has on her, and having to put down her mother’s horse, Lady.

As Cheryl approaches a place in the northern part of California called castle crags she enters a section of the trail that has been deforested due to logging. She looses the trail
while hiking through:

“a wide swath of what can only be called wilderness rubble, a landscape ripped up by its seams and logged clear…The trees that remained standing on the edge of the clear-cut seemed to mourn, their rough hides newly exposed, their jagged limbs reaching out at absurd angles” (Strayed 209).

Does Deforestation Lead to Drought? | JSTOR Daily

She ends up on many winding logging roads which follow no particular direction. As she continues to make turns she feels herself getting more and more lost. These logging roads can be considered the crossroads archetype. She keeps making decisions of which way to turn, however, each turn makes her more lost. Eventually, she decides that the best choice is to stay on one road, and that road leads her back to Highway 89 where she hitchhikes to Castle Crags.

Cheryl’s time in the wilderness facing pain, emotional and physical struggles and various dangers in the forms of wild animals to weather and climate, the small towns she stops Backpacker along PCT in Castle Crags Wilderness, Californiain become havens. This town, which she would have considered in her former life to be nothing but a tiny, insignificant town, is now a place of safety where she can rest and
resupply, including getting the replacement pair of boots she ordered. This is especially important because she loses her boots over the edge of a cliff on the way to Castle Crags. The smalls towns and the PCT represent the Haven vs. Wilderness archetype and the safety vs. dangers which Cheryl faces.

Chapter 13 is called “The Accumulation of Trees”. Near the beginning, Cheryl talks about “what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets,”(Strayed 207). All these things are part of nature, representing life and growth. Just as Cheryl is “accumulating trees”, she’s accumulating life. Restoring her soul, letting go of past burdens and struggles such as the ones she faced in her childhood with her father, and coming back to what is important in life as she heals the “hole in her heart”.

One of the most significant archetypes I found in this section was that of the bear which Cheryl crosses paths with. “[A] hair beast materialized in front of me on the trail, so close I could smell him. A bear, I realized a moment later. His eyes passed blandly over me
before he snorted and reeled and ran northward up the trail,” (Strayed 228). While this is not made out to be a significant part of the story since it is only a brief meeting and she comes across much wildlife on the trail, the bear as a spirit animal (according to First Nations culture) is a very relevant sign.

Bears represent many things which apply directly and specifically to Cheryl. A feat such as hiking the PCT requires no small amount of strength, both mentally and physically to persevere through challenges, and confidence to take the leap of faith in deciding to event attempt such a task. Throughout the novel, Cheryl refuses the company of others when on the trail because she feels that she needs to be alone in solitude and quiet to do what she set out to do, and to take the time needed to heal herself. The spirit of the bear also represents strong grounding forces, courage, and support to face challenges. Evidently, what she is doing on the trail involves immense quantities of courage. Look at how often Cheryl has to tell herself “I am not afraid” at the beginning of her hike vs by the time she gets to the end of Califonia. She finds both grounding forces and support in memories of her time with her mother, as well as friends such as Lisa who mails Cheryl’s resupply boxes and keeps in touch with her during her stops along the way. “Having a bear as a spirit animal can mean that you find balance and comfort in solitude,”(Harris). After everything that Cheryl goes through in her life before deciding to hike the PCT, there is nowhere better to find solitude, peace, and balance to work through internal struggles than out in nature. While the bear in this story is not exactly a typical archetype, the things which it represents nearly all relate directly to Cheryl and her journey.

In this section, Cheryl really begins to work through the emotional struggles that she set out on the trail to resolve and feels herself coming back to life. She faces many physical challenges as well, but by the time she reaches the Oregon border she realizes that she

“didn’t have to be amazed by [my father] anymore. There were so many other amazing things in this world. They opened up inside of my like a river…I laughed with the joy of it, and the next moment I was crying my first tears on the PCT…I was crying because I was full…I didnt feel like a big fat idiot anymore…I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too.” (Strayed 234)


“Flickriver: Damon Tighe’s photos tagged with forest.” Flickriver – A new way to view Flickr photos and more…, Accessed 29 Apr. 2017.
Harris, Elena. “Bear Spirit Animal | Meaning.” Spirit Animals, Accessed 29 Apr. 2017.
MacDonald, James. “Does deforestation lead to drought.” Daily Jstor, 11 Nov. 2015, Accessed 29 Apr. 2017.

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