Becoming Wild
by Nikki Van Schyndel

Caitlin Press Inc., 2014. ISBN 978-1-927-57539-0.
Reviewed by Pat Bean
Posted on 07/03/2014

Nonfiction: Memoir

A fisherman gave Nikki van Schyndel some advice about following her dream to survive in the wild without modern day conveniences: "If you can find funny in the things most people complain about, you'll always be happy," he said.

It was the best advice the writer could have received, as she and a male partner had stranded themselves with a cat on a small island in the Broughton Archipelago off the coast of Alaska—and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. At various times, the two humans failed to find, trap or catch enough food to keep them healthy, and during one week they were even stalked by a cougar.

While these things aren't what most people complain about, the author usually found something—after the events of course—to laugh about.

Nikki learned to use cedar bark and moss for toilet paper and nose tissue, admitting as she wrote about the experience, that it certainly gave her a new appreciation for Kleenex. Fish head and kelp soup became one of her favorite meals. And she overcame her fear of sleeping in the open near a wild animal trail in a ragged, rain-soaked sleeping bag. Truly.

"Why intentionally put oneself to such tests," some readers might ask? The answer is found in the book's opening sentence: "It is only when we follow our dreams that we discover the magic within ourselves."

Nikki's dream of living off the land began when she was eight years old, after she read Jean Craighead George's, "My Side of the Mountain." In this children's book, the hero, Sam, runs away from home to live off the land with only a knife, fire-starting flint, some twine, and a pet raccoon. Her dream of doing something similar continued to grow through the years. To support it, Nikki retreated to nature whenever possible, and then started taking outdoor survival classes.

As one whose own dream of traveling the world began at the age of ten, after reading Osa Johnson's "I Married Adventure," I understood the author's motive. But reading Becoming Wild made me thankful that my own dream didn't involve the kind of hardships Nikki lived through to achieve her goal.

What made this book enjoyable was that despite the adversities the author faced, whether it was a marathon blister-creating rowing trip to another island in search of salmon or enduring mosquitoes that tormented her flesh, Nikki never failed to see the natural beauty around her.

On Day 230 of her adventure, which she described as her first day off from the chores of surviving, she wrote in her journal that she ran "to the woods with the illusion that by living simply and purely in nature, I wouldn't have to deal with the temptations or distractions that bombarded me in the city. I thought becoming a truly good person would be easier in the forest."

I think readers who have their own dreams will find this book inspiring. As do all journeys, this adventure changed Nikki. You can find out how by reading the book.

Nikki van Schyyndel graduated from the Dominion Herbal College in British Columbia. She has gone from "wild woman" to "forest dweller," living in a log cabin that she built in the remote community of Echo Bay, British Columbia. She shares her love of the outdoors and the natural world with guests of Echo Bay EcoVentures as a tour guide. Visit the book website & Echo Bay EcoVentures website.

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