The Call of the Wild: When Nature Pushes Back 

Words by Mia Cammarota

In 2012, my family and I were vacationing at Glacier National Park in Montana. I distinctly remember being told to enjoy the glaciers while they were still there because if I came back as an adult they would be gone. The doomsday tone of the park ranger alarmed me and while there are still glaciers left to see, the fear of nature fading away stuck with me. In an age of heightened eco-anxiety, the fear of the climate crisis and nature slipping away strikes many of us, albeit some more than others. In this article, the story of three adventurers and environmentalists wanting to escape modernity or connect with nature are presented. Fair warning, each ends tragically (although details are to be left out here). These stories show that as a society, we can’t look away from something so tragic yet captivating and when others push nature’s limits and find that connection many long for, it pulls us in rather than pushing us away.  

Timothy Treadwell (1957-2003) was an environmentalist, founder of the non-profit Grizzly People, and lived a lot his life in the wilderness. For thirteen summers, Treadwell fully immersed himself into living alongside the Alaskan Brown Bear camping at Katmai National Park and other Alaskan parks with high bear populations. He often filmed his experience where he is seen coming in close contact with the bears and trying to pet them. For his final trip, he brought his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, with him to camp amongst the bears and venture into “the grizzly maze.” Treadwell noted that some of the bears seemed more aggressive than usual. On October 5th, Treadwell and Huguenard called for them to be picked up the next day, but when the pilot arrived both persons were found dead. The death of Treadwell and Huguenard were recorded by a camera with the lens cap still on; both were killed by what is believed to be an abnormally aggressive bear. The story of Timothy Treadwell paints bears as creatures to be feared and himself as someone who was “asking for it.” While I can see some truth in both claims, this story also speaks for a fight to protect bears and highlights the other sides of their being that isn’t aggression.  

Jay Moriarty (1978-2001) grew up in Santa Cruz, California. He learned to surf at 9, and was a natural. Moriarty became obsessed with surfing a surf break off the coast of Half Moon Bay, California known as Mavericks. He went under intense physical and mental training for two years at the age of 13 with the goal of surfing Mavericks. At age 15, he successfully surfed the surf break. On January 19th, 2001, he set out to surf, unknowingly for the last time and on June 15, 2001, he died free diving in the Indian Ocean. Jay Moriarty’s life of pushing the limits ended because the limits finally pushed back. I think even if he knew his demise it wouldn’t have kept him from the ocean. The ocean is vast, powerful, and exciting. The story of Jay Moriarty was made into a movie in 2012 called Chasing Mavericks and while it ends in tragedy it’s impossible to ignore his passion for surfing. The story draws you into the world of surfing rather than pushing you away. 

Chris McCandless (1968-1992) grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and studied history and anthropology at Emory University. After completing his degree (May 1990) he donated all of his money to charity and set off on his own. Searching to get away from modernity and seeking adventure, McCandless drove to Arizona where his car stopped working due to a flash flood and set off on foot. After two years of working and travelling around Western United States and Mexico, he set forth on his final adventure. On April 25, 1992, starting in Fairbanks, Alaska he hitchhiked to the Stampede Trail where he began his adventure which was planned to end in July 1992. His trip was prolonged when a river he planned to cross back into civilization swelled. He was forced to survive on a diet that weakened his body and on September 6, 1992, Chris McCandless died. Ultimately, his death can be attributed to the tricks of nature as it was the Hedysarum alpinum plant which was believe at the time to be non-poisonous that killed him. Following his death, the plant was tested several times and finally found to be poisonous. Before the tests, when the Hedysarum alpinum plant was still believed to be safe, many saw McCandless as young and careless. His death wasn’t entirely his fault, he wanted to escape society and venture out into the wilderness, and he did so successfully, equipped with the proper knowledge. The unknown poisonous berries and the river swelling could not have been predicted, but the forces of nature need to be understood. 

These three stories are tragic and when researching Timothy Treadwell, the details of his death were difficult to read. The takeaway from this isn’t to fear nature because it’s good to know that it can have its limits. Despite controversy, all three knew the limits of their adventure and task, but that didn’t seem to matter. Treadwell had vast knowledge about bears, the aggressiveness of the bear that killed him was rare. Jay Moriarty trained for years on breath-holding techniques to survive a Maverick’s accident; he shouldn’t have died free diving. Chris McCandless was prepared to go into nature, but with its uncertainties he was still taking a big risk. Despite tragedy, we are pulled to nature as an escape and while these stories should scare us, they often light a fire of curiosity beneath us. I think that these three stories speak for what the wild is at its core: terrifying, fascinating, free, exciting. You can’t help but look its way. 

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