Friday, May 20, 2011

Alone in the Sierra

Book: Alone In The Sierra
Author: Marcel 'Pete' Fraser
Edition:  Fithian Press, 1991
Read: May 2011
75 pages
Rated: 2 out of 5

I saw this book in the library and decided the title looked inviting. Fraser hikes the Sierra's originally with his family, but now by himself. Not really a journal, but a collections of his own musings based upon his trail journal.

Fraser is around my age, 57, when he wrote this book.  As far as I can tell, this is his first and only book he wrote. Also, this is self-published through Fithian Press. As such, he could have used some editing to sharpen his writing. There is a tendency for him to wander, not only in the Sierra's, but also on these pages.

The book is based on a collection of his journal writings. He does not identify places or times/dates. This leads to a sense of displacement. There is a natural sense of loneliness occurring in these writings. Fraser talks about this. His journal is how he copes with the loneliness. But there is also a sense where the ramblings he makes during this time does not have any check on the reasonableness of his thoughts.

It is this last part which the book reaches for depth, but only skins the surface. Fraser has some interesting thoughts, but only blurts them out in a sentence or two and then moves on. For examples of these, see below. This book can be depressing. He is a modern man, alone with his thoughts. He sees the beauty of the mountains and he sees no more. There is no reaching beyond him only the question, is this all there is?

 The quality of this book is  along the lines or even better than what what I would do. That is both the thing which attracts me and repels me. The attraction is that there is comradeship in what Fraser is trying to do. But what I look for in a book is something beyond me, not something which I would do. So the rating of a two is because it is about what I would be doing.

Some comments which Fraser makes and my thoughts on these.
  • Fraser talks about looking for order and symmetry in nature but finding only truth. He then asks if he has been mis-taught about truth. I am not sure how he came to these conclusions. I understand about the clutter you find in the mountains and finding beauty in that. But what does he mean by truth? No explanation on what he found. (17)
  • There is an excitement of going down a trail you have not been on before. He talks about the excitement being 'born of discovery'. I like the term to describe what he feels.  It is seeing new sights, going places which you have not been before to discover something new—mostly in you. (17)
  • 'Nameless he knows them [flowers] individually.' I find the opposite--better the name, the more individual which I know things. A bird is a bird until I know it as a Stellar Jay. Even that distinction there is too much of a group. It is when I address the bird as Mr. Jay or give it a name—food stealer—that I make the bird an individual. I think that is why God had Adam name the animals so that they would be known individually rather than as a blur. It is the same with us. We see only the teeming masses of people in a city until we know the person's name. (17)
  • Fraser talks about hiking and being able to ignore the surroundings—he is on a trail here. He says 'now I hike mechanically...My mind approaches overload as I delve into these matters of consciousness and the cosmos.' I understand. The first day of a trip, is the day which I sort things out. It is after wards which I can look around and understand; think great thoughts. (17) Later on he states a preference for cross-country routes. Each step you take is your own step, not someone else's. You concentrate on the step and the destination. It is up to you rather than the trail maker. (65)
  • With a backpack, you only can rely on what you have with you, around you and in you. (21)
  • When you are on the trail, you soon get into a rhythm where you think about things in time with your body—mostly the beat of your walk. (22)
  • Interesting assumption—'we use the world for our own purpose. Neither for good or ill.' Of course you have to consider the view we start with. If you start with that we are moral creatures—we have to have morals in order to live, then Fraser's statement becomes incorrect. How we live has moral consequences, so how we use the materials around us is an extension of that morality. (26)
  • When Fraser has a plane pass overhead, he observes that in a single minute that plan will travel further than he will in a day. The occupants will have cocktails, watch a movie do so many things. Yet, and this is my reading, in that minute, do they live more than a backpacker does? Do they get to experience the majesty, the wonder, the greatness of the space they are in? I do not think so. I think it goes back to, the closer we are to our own size, the more we experience. (32)
  • Of course, beauty is talked about. He comes across a place where nature is rejuvenating an area, an area were rock slides have taken down trees and brush. But there are signs of new life. He comments that most people understand what is being talked about by beauty and raises the question, have we been conditioned to accept what others call beauty? He does not say. I would say that we have it ingrained in us from the one who created us. (39)
  • I loved his description of trying to bear proof a food cache. I have done much the same thing, but not as well. (40)
  • Here is the real crux of where Fraser and I differ. He indicates that all of his life is meaningless.  He wants to savor his aloneness without the distractions of human company. But he does not want to examine himself too much, being afraid of that he will find.  Knowing too much will upset the balance of his existence. (45) There may be somethings which we ask the same, which we want the same. But the origins and results are different. I look time alone to explore myself, but being afraid what I will find. But at the end of the exploration, I know that there is a great good which loves me, which will take me in. Consequently, each pursuit I have means I need to find where I being lead to. In looking at Fraser's biography, he has explored several occupations and is currently selling real estate. I am guessing that he is only finding existence, not satisfaction. I wonder if he still backpacks, or does that pack too much meaning. In another place, Fraser, talks about man being nature's unsuccessful experiment. (69) On the other hand, I think of man as a work in progress by God. We just have not become what he wants us to be—or more particular, I am still becoming what He wants me to be.
  • 'The last day always comes. In all endeavors.' (71). So true, so true. Depends on the outlook. No matter how much I enjoy a trip, there is a feeling of wanting to return back to home. I wonder if that will be my feeling on my last day. It is time to go home.
  • Fraser states that he 'loves the life that is basic. And the self-sufficiency. And the solitude. But not the loneliness. ' (74). I can identify with this quote. The last part especially. When I experience something, the first thing which I want to do is to share it. Without the sharing, the experience is incomplete. Fraser later says the same thing. He has his journal and this is part of communicating. Is this why I keep a journal when I hike? To share out my experience? Or is it to say that I am somebody in this universe?

Good Quotes:
  • Life is wonder. (73)
  • Few trouble to track solitude, to seek places of absolute peace. … Seclusion can be bought cheaply with a few extra steps … are we afraid of solitude? (73)