I just finished the first season of History Channel’s Alone, a series that plunks down ten brave souls in the wild of Vancouver Island to go it alone until only one remains. I watched transfixed as they etched out a scrappy existence amongst cougars, bears, wolves, not to mention crazy-extreme weather. It rains over 200 days out of the year there.
But it wasn’t really the animals that fascinated me, although it surely got my heart racing when they would come sniffing around their tent or could be heard snarling en mass nearby. Really, the animals seemed to get used to them after a few days and went on with their own business.
It wasn’t even the bushcraft skills that kept me watching, although I was very impressed by all of them and learned useful things like a cooking pot is more valuable than a knife, and hypothermia – even just from sweating in the cold – is not something you should screw around with. Also: really really know your water source before you drink water unboiled, lest you start to see Mayan writing on your tent ceiling and flashes of light in the dark woods. Scary.
It was the mental vulnerability that ultimately hooked me to this series. It’s the look in their eyes as they stare into the camera after weeks of being alone, their souls seemingly tapped in a way that spills the ego’s shit clean out into the open, never allowing them to go back to who they were before. Alan, the one who ended up last and my new, poetic hero, was apparently still struggling to re-adapt 15 months after returning home.
Alan said so many things that struck me, but he rightly pointed out that we have no right of passage in the West – no ritual of going somewhere and reflecting upon life and coming out a different person. He also said that:
“Something’s not right when you spend the whole day staring at a screen and pushing a button.”
Well….yes. Although many of us do so with great purpose for the advancement of a better society. And that’s worth something.
No matter what they experienced in their unique, daily adventures – victory or failure, joy or disappointment, luck or no luck – nature was just there to witness them without judgement. It mercilessly pelted them with rain and then mercifully shone its sun on their skin. It gave abundance and then presented scarcity. Nature showed them, most maturely, that they were within it, and not beside, above or below it.
Nature seems to have a way of making you real, like when Velveteen Rabbit becomes real when he’s loved by a human boy.
Here, Alan reflects.