unpleasantly loud and harsh
strident criticism came in the form of a dense, multipage epistle from Ambler, a tiny Inupiat village on the Kobuk River north of the Arctic Circle.
overbearing pride or presumption
McCandless is, finally, just a pale 20th-century burlesque of London's protagonist, who freezes because he ignores advice and commits big-time
rigorous self-denial and active self-restraint
asceticism and a pseudoliterary stance compound rather than reduce the fault.
characteristic of acting or a stage performance
McCandless's postcards, notes, and journals ... read like the work of an above average, somewhat
histrionic high school kid
difficult to penetrate
In mid-winter a field biologist discovered all his belongings—two rifles, camping gear, a diary filled with incoherent ranting about truth and beauty and
recondite ecological theory
not neatly combed
One rainy afternoon while walking into town, I crossed paths with an
unkempt, agitated man who appeared to be about forty.
a person from whom you are descended
He wondered whether humans could live as our
forebears had when mammoths and saber-toothed tigers roamed the land or whether our species had moved too far from its roots to survive without gunpowder, steel, and other artifacts of civilization.
sing and play for somebody
He carried around a cheap guitar held together with masking tape and would
serenade anybody who’d listen with long, off-key songs about his adventures.
become reduced to ashes
the cabin he was staying in caught fire and burned to rubble,
incinerating both his equipment and the voluminous accumulation of notes, poetry, and personal journals that he regarded as his life’s work.
deviating from a straight course
As if climbing the peak alone in winter weren’t challenging enough, this time he decided to up the ante even further by beginning his ascent at sea level, which entailed walking 160 hard,
circuitous miles from the shore of Cook Inlet just to reach the foot of the mountain.
tending to attract attention; marked by ostentatious display
And he seemed like a smart guy. But there was a side to him that was a little bit dreamy, a little bit out of touch with reality. He was
flamboyant. He liked to party hard.
a swaggering show of courage
He could be extremely responsible, but he had a tendency to wing it sometimes, to act impulsively, to get by on
bravado and style.
“I think I should have used more foresight about arranging my departure,” he confessed to his diary, significant portions of which were published
posthumously in a five-part story by Kris Capps in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
feed on carrion or refuse
At one point he managed to
scavenge meat from a diseased caribou that had wandered into the lake and died.
unconventional in especially appearance and behavior
Stella was a headstrong woman with
bohemian tastes and driving artistic ambitions, for both herself and her kin; she self-published a literary journal, the Ruess Quartette, the cover of which was emblazoned with the family maxim: "Glorify the hour."
young and inexperienced
Ruess was, in the words of Wallace Stegner, "a
callow romantic, an adolescent esthete, an atavistic wanderer of the wastelands"
Twice I was nearly gored to death by a wild bull. But always, so far, I’ve escaped
unscathed and gone forth to other adventures.
in a composed and unconcerned manner
And in his final letter Ruess
nonchalantly confesses to his brother: I have had a few narrow escapes from rattlers and crumbling cliffs.
equipment consisting of miscellaneous articles
except for the burros and their tack, none of Ruess’s possessions—his camping
paraphernalia, journals, and paintings—was ever found.
(of fiction) involving clever rogues or adventurers
When Edward Abbey was writing The Monkey Wrench Gang, his
picaresque novel about eco-terrorism in the canyon country, his pal Ken Sleight was said to have inspired the character Seldom Seen Smith.
requiring secret or mysterious knowledge
Within the ranks of his
arcane field—an advanced technology called synthetic aperture radar, or SAR—he is an eminence.
liable to sudden unpredictable change
According to members of the extended family, his moods can be dark and
mercurial, although they say his famous temper has lost much of its volatility in recent years.
the path followed by an object moving through space
It is impossible to know what murky convergence of chromosomal matter, parent-child dynamics, and alignment of the cosmos was responsible, but Christopher Johnson McCandless came into the world with unusual gifts and a will not easily deflected from its
shunning contact with others
antisocial—he always had friends, and everybody liked him—but he could go off and entertain himself for hours. He didn’t seem to need toys or friends. He could be alone without being lonely.
a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will
rancor was more smoke than fire, says Carine, but "I think it was one of the reasons Chris and I were so close. We learned to count on each other when Mom and Dad weren’t getting along.”
the ability to shrewdly understand or judge things
The old man’s backwoods
savvy, his affinity for the wilderness, left a deep impression on the boy.
distinctive and stylish elegance
Indeed, in a goofy video Chris made in college, he can be heard belting out "Summers by the sea/Sailboats in Capri” with impressive
panache, crooning like a professional lounge singer.
a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude
Nuance, strategy, and anything beyond the rudimentaries of technique were wasted on Chris.
a social policy of racial segregation
He spoke seriously to his friends about smuggling weapons into that country and joining the struggle to end
causing awareness of your shortcomings
When Walt and Billie suggested that he needed a college degree to attain a fulfilling career, Chris answered that careers were
demeaning “twentieth-century inventions," more of a liability than an asset, and that he would do fine without one, thank you.
impervious to correction by punishment
To the contrary, he enjoyed tipping a glass now and then and was an
‘All you need to know is that it works,’ he said. ‘You don’t need to know how or why.’ Chris was just being Chris, but it
a man who likes many women
One of the individuals he professed to admire greatly over the last two years of his life was a heavy drinker and incorrigible
philanderer who regularly beat up his girlfriends.
excessively or hypocritically pious
Whenever Walt McCandless, in his stern fashion, would dispense a fatherly admonishment to Chris, Carine, or their half siblings, Chris would fixate on his father’s own less than sterling behavior many years earlier and silently denounce him as a
to, toward or at one side
He chose instead to make a secret of his dark knowledge and express his rage
obliquely, in silence and sullen withdrawal.
deviating from the general or common order or type
anomalous political positions were perhaps best summed up by Thoreau’s declaration in “Civil Disobedience": "I heartily accept the motto—‘That government is best which governs least.’ ”
censure severely or angrily
He lampooned Jimmy Carter and Joe Biden, called for the resignation of Attorney General Edwin Meese,
lambasted Bible-thumpers of the Christian right, urged vigilance against the Soviet threat, castigated the Japanese for hunting whales, and defended Jesse Jackson as a viable presidential candidate.
transmitting light; able to be seen through with clarity
It was an abbreviated trip—he spent a short time around Fairbanks, then hurried south to get back to Atlanta in time for the start of fall classes—but he had been smitten by the vastness of the land, by the ghostly hue of the glaciers, by the
pellucid subarctic sky.
stubbornly resistant to authority or control
In both photos Chris stares at the lens with the same pensive,
recalcitrant squint, as if he’d been interrupted in the middle of an important thought and was annoyed to be wasting his time in front of the camera.
reduce to ashes
Less than twenty-four hours after landing in Fairbanks, Carine and Sam flew on to Anchorage, where Chris’s body had been
cremated following the autopsy at the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory.