On Mountain Climbing, Homelessness, Addiction and Finding Our True Selves

On Mountain Climbing, Homelessness, Addiction and Finding Our True Selves
April 1, 2016 Gina Haines

When I first saw the trailer for A New High—a forthcoming documentary film about an addiction recovery program that takes homeless adults to the top of Seattle’s Mt. Rainier, the highest mountain in the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest—I thought instantly of the famous Romantic painting by Caspar David Friedrich, “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.” In the painting, a man stands with his back to the viewer, looking out from the top of a mountain-top over a vast expanse of land. It is the prototypical Romantic image—the individual has mastered the mountain by reaching its summit, but is left with a feeling of insignificance in the face of nature’s immensity. The Romantics believed that “man’s” true self could only be found in the wilderness, and this has endured in all manner of literature, advertising, and media. Who could forget Thoreau’s famous line, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately”? Walden is taught year after year in high school curricula, and in my opinion, not because of its literary merit, but because of its subject matter. Thoreau himself said, “we can never have enough of nature.” Books like Into the Wild and Wild (notice a trend, here?) and their filmic adaptations—made in 2007 and 2014, respectively—were critical successes and “wildly” popular. Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” is a personal favorite of mine, and all of us have many friends, family, and acquaintances that have taken wilderness trips—the Appalachian trail, the Amazon, the Boundary Waters—to “find themselves.” All of these examples refer to the solitary individual in Friedrich’s “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog”; we may face our demons, our dreams, our desires, when faced with the fragility of our existence.

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