Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reconsidering Risks

Muir says that after the near accident, "Stickeen was a changed dog." However, Muir was also a changed man. Muir viewed Stickeen as "so perfectly human" and treated and interacted with him as if he were a boy. The two struggled with the near-perilous conditions together, and I found it interesting how much Muir was affected by Stickeen's boyish exhilaration after he made it past the crevasse. He was taken aback by the shift in Stickeen's demeanor from "so passionate a revulsion from the depths of despair to exultant, triumphant, uncontrollable joy." I think in some ways Muir saw reflections of himself at a younger age in Stickeen's youthful glee at surviving, and was able to relate to the human-like and incredibly "passionate emotion" that Muir had surely experienced on previous expeditions and in other areas of life. Muir adopted the role of a parent in their relationship, and was the one who had to urge Stickeen on to put aside his joy and continue the journey. I think seeing some of himself in Stickeen put some of the risks Muir had taken (both in this adventure and others) into a bit of perspective--despite all of the risks that one takes in the backcountry, one is always capable of raw, boyish feelings. Muir says at the end that "through [Stickeen] as a window I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals." Involving another person in one's risks adds another element of reality, and Muir came face to face with the torturous emotions that this risk caused his new dog friend. As he said, "when [Stickeen] saw that I was certainly bent on crossing he cried aloud in despair. The danger was enough to haunt anybody." Muir realized that he can't put others in dangerous situations as freely as he puts himself in them because risk affects our innermost emotions and causes "big, wise fears" to surface. In other words, by seeing the emotional stress that Stickeen with through, Muir realized that he shouldn't so easily allow others to be involved in such risks. It's interesting that it took Muir thirty years to write this version of the story, and as the introduction points out, it was the "hardest thing he ever tried to write." I'm not exactly sure why, because this seems to be a fairly straightforward story, but my guess is that it has something to do with Muir's realizations that we are all human, after all, and have these innate, raw boyish emotions, so it caused him to reevaluate the freedom he used to employ in risk taking.

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