Reese Witherspoon in the forthcoming film, Wild

“People make mistakes in life through believing too much, but they have a damned dull time if they believe too little.” – James Hilton

Getting Lost has continued to be a popular post on this site for a few years. That tells me that I am not alone in my interest in the idea that getting lost is sometimes the path to getting found.

I have posted a field guide to getting lost.  I surprised myself when I noted in the site statistics how many times “lost” has turned up in my posts.  My interest in getting lost has always been balanced with a desire to be found or finding myself.  I have played with that idea both literally getting found in the woods and more figuratively in those times when I feel lost in the psychological  lost days sense.

This past week I came upon some old hardcover copies I had of two  James Hilton novels. One was Goodbye, Mr. Chips. That nostalgic book that became several films was one I read the summer before I became a teacher. It was a good injection of hope with a touch of sadness for the profession that I have been doing for 40 years. Hilton based it his father, who worked as a school headmaster. Now that I am at least semi-retired from teaching and only doing it part-time, I can identify more with the “goodbye” part of the Mr. Chips’ story.

The other book is Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It was published is a 1933 and my copy is one that was on my parents’ bookshelf that they bought after seeing the 1937 film adaptation by one of my favorite directors, Frank Capra. His films are sometimes labeled “Capracorn” because they often slide into sentimentality. I never agreed with that completely. I actually think his holiday class, It’s A Wonderful Life, is quite dark. I would teach in a film noir class without hesitation.

Lost Horizon brought us the term Shangri-La. It is Hilton’s fictional utopian place (like Paradelle) that he located high in the mountains of Tibet. The protagonist, Hugh Conway, escapes his life in the British diplomatic service and finds inner peace, love, and a sense of purpose in that mountain place. It seems sadly always-timely that Conway fears that another cataclysmic world war is imminent.  Hilton turned out to be correct. I wonder if the book came to mind for my father a few years later when he went off to WWII as a sailor.

Hugh Conway had to be lost before he found himself, and that idea came up again this week when I read an interview with Reese Witherspoon  about her latest film, Wild, which comes out in early December.

Now, I have had a sitting-in-the-audience crush on Reese since I spotted her on the TV film Return to Lonesome Dove (1993). She was great in Election and Pleasantville and lovable, popular and smart in the Legally Blonde films. She probably still has to deal with an image of being a romantic comedy actress. But she got serious praise for Walk the Line. And I really enjoyed her work in Water for Elephants and Mud, although those two probably didn’t get as much praise or box office – not that those things should mean anything to viewers.

In that interview, she says “Honestly, I’ve done some movies that were really challenging, and I’ve done some movies that aren’t challenging at all.” I found another article that talked about a Reese “renaissance” – a term that would piss me off if I was her as much as the term comeback – but she has been following some new paths recently.

She had a starring role in the drama The Good Lie (about in the Lost Boys of Sudan). She produced David Fincher’s Gone Girl  that comes out in October. She has a smaller role (like in Mud) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. and I like it when “stars” do small parts too. But the film that most interests me is Wild .

The film is based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. A friend gave the book to me the year after my mother died, but I wasn’t ready then to read it.

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir is about her solo hike on the PCT after her mother’s death and the dissolution of her marriage. It was a best-seller and an Oprah’s Book Club selection, but a tale of grief wasn’t what I wanted then.

Still, I did page through it because a solo hike of the Appalachian Trail has been on my bucket list since I graduated college. I did the prep, read the books, got the maps, joined a hiking club, did some sections of the AT. But then we had kids. And my knees started to give out on me, so I stopped hiking and started walking.

The book should have grabbed me. It could sit comfortably on a shelf with the story of Chris McCandless, Into the Wild and my well-worn copies of Walden and A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and everything I’ve read that touched on wilderness salvation.

I think what held me away from the book was that I didn’t have the kind of crisis that Strayed had. I didn’t  have spontaneous sexual encounters outside my marriage. I didn’t fall into shooting up heroin.

When I considered my long hike I was prepared. Strayed, like McCandless, was unprepared for the journey. If you are an experienced hiker, you will cringe at their lack of preparation. A friend who sails felt the same way about the Robert Redford character in All Is Lost. He told me, “He did everything wrong!” She takes along books (again like McCandless, overly inspired by literature) – Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich poetry, but not the right hiking boots.

But the upcoming film will motivate me to read the book.  The film seems very promising. Reese looks scrubbed and natural.  It was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). It was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity). Laura Dern plays Strayed’s mother.

I suggested just last week to my friend Scott (who is newly retired and moving to Virginia) that we do a Shenandoah hike and get a little lost. Scott and I can talk for hours and solve all the world’s problems. He works as a substance abuse counselor and knows all about finding yourself. I don’t know if the soul-searching I am feeling as autumn arrives this month requires a thousand-mile hike in order to center myself, but you have to be open to getting lost if you want to be found.


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