spotlessly clean and fresh
Alaska has long been a magnet for dreamers and misfits, people who think the
unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier will patch all the holes in their lives.
the quality of never making an error
There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness—a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of
in deplorable condition
A vintage International Harvester from the 1940s, the
derelict vehicle is located twenty-five miles west of Healy as the raven flies, rusting incongruously in the fireweed beside the Stampede Trail, just beyond the boundary of Denali National Park.
willfully obstinate; stubbornly disobedient
Thompson, Samel, and Swanson, however, are
contumacious Alaskans with a special fondness for driving motor vehicles where motor vehicles aren’t really designed to be driven.
an examination and dissection of a dead body
The body was taken to Anchorage, where an
autopsy was performed at the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory.
effusively or insincerely emotional
The Cabarets plywood-paneled walls are hung with deer antlers, Old Milwaukee beer promos, and
mawkish paintings of game birds taking flight.
caused to be unloved
If McCandless felt
estranged from his parents and siblings, he found a surrogate family in Westerberg and his employees, most of whom lived in Westerberg's Carthage home.
convert ordinary language into code
Westerberg had been drawn into a scheme to build and sell "black boxes,” which illegally unscramble satellite-television transmissions, allowing people to watch
encrypted cable programming without paying for it.
feeling or expressing pain or sorrow for sins or offenses
Contrite, he copped a plea to a single felony count and on October 10, 1990, some two weeks after McCandless arrived in Carthage, began serving a four-month sentence in Sioux Falls.
With Westerberg in stir, there was no work at the grain elevator for McCandless, so on October 23, sooner than he might have under different circumstances, the boy left town and resumed a
showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others
(The latter is a reference to Tolstoy’s protagonist and alter ego, Pierre Bezuhov—
altruistic, questing, illegitimately born.)
a proposed route of travel
Five weeks earlier he’d loaded all his belongings into his little car and headed west without an
a long wandering and eventful journey
The trip was to be an
odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything.
not easily borne; wearing
He had spent the previous four years, as he saw it, preparing to fulfill an absurd and
onerous duty: to graduate from college.
The desert is the environment of revelation, genetically and physiologically alien, sensorily austere, esthetically abstract, historically
tending to cure or restore to health
Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the
therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.
the act or means of going out
There was nowhere to move the car, however, as the only route of
egress was now a foaming, full-blown river.
deeply agitated especially from emotion
Instead of feeling
distraught over this turn of events, moreover, McCandless was exhilarated: He saw the flash flood as an opportunity to shed unnecessary baggage.
any system of principles or beliefs
Although the tone of the journal—written in the third person in a stilted, self-consciousness voice—often veers toward melodrama, the available evidence indicates that McCandless did not misrepresent the facts; telling the truth was a
credo he took seriously.
“He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and
brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight.”
not restrained or controlled
This lower stretch of the river, from Hoover Dam to the gulf, has little in common with the
unbridled torrent that explodes through the Grand Canyon, some 250 miles upstream from Topock.
a small natural hill
On January 16, McCandless left the stubby metal boat on a
hummock of dune grass southeast of El Golfo de Santa Clara and started walking north up the deserted beach.
To avoid being robbed by the
unsavory characters who rule the streets and freeway overpasses where he slept, he learned to bury what money he had before entering a city, then recover it on the way out of town.
having existed from the beginning
primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierce conditions of trail life it grew and grew.
subject to sharply varying moods
Didn’t like to be around too many people, though.
Temperamental. He meant good, but I think he had a lot of complexes—know what I’m saying?
ostentatiously lofty in style
Mesmerized by London’s
turgid portrayal of life in Alaska and the Yukon, McCandless read and reread The Call of the Wild, White Fang, “To Build a Fire," "An Odyssey of the North,” “The Wit of Porportuk."
filled with wonder and delight
He was so
enthralled by these tales, however, that he seemed to forget they were works of fiction, constructions of the imagination that had more to do with London’s romantic sensibilities than with the actualities of life in the subarctic wilderness.
the delivery of goods for sale or disposal
One afternoon while McCandless was tending the book table at the Niland swap meet, somebody left a portable electric organ with Burres to sell on
light exercises designed to promote general fitness
calisthenics each morning to get in shape for the rigors of the bush and discussed backcountry survival strategies at length with Bob, a self-styled survivalist.
On January 4, 1993, this writer received an unusual letter, penned in a shaky,
anachronistic script that suggested an elderly author.
thoroughly dried out
Away from the lakeshore the land rises gently and then abruptly to form the
desiccated, phantasmal badlands of Anza-Borrego.
the means of connection between things linked in series
When he needed provisions, he would hitch or walk the four miles into town, where he bought rice and filled his plastic water jug at the market-liquor store-post office, a beige stucco building that serves as the cultural
nexus of greater Salton City.
in deplorable condition
Franz drove Alex the rest of the way, chatted with him there for a while, and then returned to town, where he lived alone, rent free, in return for managing a
ramshackle apartment building.
a man-made object
Executed with remarkable skill and creativity, this belt is as astonishing as any
artifact Chris McCandless left behind.
Not infrequently during their visits, Franz recalls, McCandless’s face would darken with anger and he’d
fulminate about his parents or politicians or the endemic idiocy of mainstream American life.
grow and flourish
Franz relished being with McCandless, but their
burgeoning friendship also reminded him how lonely he’d been.
a fictitious name used when performing a particular role
Ronald Franz (this is not his real name; at his request I have given him a
pseudonym) looks remarkably sturdy for a man in his ninth decade who has survived two heart attacks.
having a rank smell or taste
I opened the microwave, and the bottom of it was filled with
rancid grease. Alex had been using it to cook chicken, and it never occurred to him that the grease had to drain somewhere.
unrestrained, especially with regard to feelings
Given Walt’s need to exert control and Chris’s extravagantly independent nature, polarization was inevitable.
a relationship of mutual understanding between people
In high school McCandless had enjoyed a close
rapport with two or three members of the opposite sex, and Carine recalls one instance when he got drunk and tried to bring a girl up to his bedroom in the middle of the night