Good Morning Midnight: : |
Life and Death in the Wild
reviews | buy
January 15, 2003
A life consciously, if eccentrically, lived becomes a death carefully arranged--and the subject of this thoughtful meditation on the virtues of knowing when itís time to check out. Guy Waterman lived several lives.
A speechwriter on Capitol Hill, an expert on domestic policy and the intricacies of social planning, an accomplished pianist and self-trained literary scholar, he had become a late convert to the hippie back-to-the-land ideal and had disappeared into the woods of Vermont to write, climb mountains, and live the simple life.
He was well liked by his neighbors, who looked to him as something of a village explainer, and he spent his days much as he wished to; a data junkie whose "predominant tendency was to transform the raw stuff of daily life into analyzable packets of data," he "religiously recorded snow depths, daily temperature readings, number of quarts of ice cream consumed . . . [and] every blueberry picked in his berry patch."
Yet, writes journalist Brown (Afterwards, Youíre a Genius, 1999), Waterman was far from happy. At the age of 67, he was ill, though quiet about it, and tired, and one day he told his wife, "I think Iím going to go in a couple of days." Go he did, climbing into the high peaks of Franconia Ridge and dying there of exposure in the "killing cold," leaving a note that said, "Do not take special efforts to save life. Death is intended."
Brown reconstructs Watermanís fascinating career and the evolution of the mountaineering/wilderness ethic that made such a stoical end of a piece with his life. Though the whole matter is a little ghoulish, as Brown willingly admits--and, as one of Watermanís friends remarks, "Would you even be here if Guy had died quietlyin his sleep?"--this quiet contemplation hits a stride that manages to honor its subjectís life, and life in general. To be shelved alongside Into Thin Air and On Death and Dying: for outdoors buffs and Hemlock Society members alike.