Grand Canyon 2015
I have been fascinated with other people lives for as long as I can remember. At first, I enjoyed reading anything I could find whether it was fiction or non-fiction. As a child, my family moved around a lot. It took me a while to make friends so I would spend hours and hours at any library I could find. It gave me comfort to spend time with the characters I had become so familiar with.
As an adult, I began to want to know more about real people I was especially curious about how people persevere through tragedies. I wanted to know why people would put themselves in dangerous places. I read as many books on mountain climbing as I could find, especially about Mount Everest. This led me to Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air.”
I loved the story and the way it was written. I wanted to read every book by Jon Krakauer. That is how I first heard of Everett Ruess a few years ago when I read Jon Krakauer’s book, “Into the Wild”. The book tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who decided to leave everything behind and walk into the wilds of Alaska. Christopher changed his name to Alexander Supertramp. He believed that he could make it on his own and he did for awhile. He lasted over 100 days by killing game and gathering fruits and berries. Unfortunately, his lack of knowledge about living off the land probably led to his untimely death. His body was found in an old abandoned bus by some hunters.
Christopher’s family was tortured by his choices and by the what if’s concerning his flight from his home. Christopher wrote about his travels. In one of Christopher’s writings that he left behind there is a certain quote that sticks with me. “Happiness is only real when shared.”
In the book about Christopher, Jon Krakauer spoke of Everett Ruess. Everett was a poet and artist and began to wander as early as sixteen years old. He was obsessed with wandering through the wilderness, especially the Southwestern part of the United States. I spent a lot of my days wandering wherever we happened to be living at the time. One very memorable time when I was about ten, we stayed the whole summer camping at different parks. I am sure the adults in my life were not thrilled that we lived like that but I spent every day out on the trails. I fell asleep every night listening to the radio theatricals. “Mystery Theater” and “The Shadow Knows” were my favorites.
Everett Ruess documented his travels in diaries, poems, and artwork. What really drew me to Everett was the fact that he was just sixteen years old when he started.. The lengths of these journeys also intrigued me. He would wander for months at a time and travel over hundreds of miles. Everett would spend time visiting in the some of the small towns, making friends with folks and taking odd jobs. But eventually, he would be drawn back into the wilderness and solitude.
Everett’s family had made a trip through the southwest part of the United States when he was a child. Though he would travel other areas in the United States, the southwest would hold a strong attraction for Everett. He wrote poems in the letters he sent to his friends and family.
“Strange, sad winds sweep down the canyon, roaring in the first and the tall pines,swaying their crests…I am overwhelmed by the appalling strangeness and intricacy of the curiously tangled knot of life, and at the way that knot unwinds, making everything clear and inevitable, however unfortunate or wonderful.”
Everett always returned to his family, sometimes after only a few months; other times his journeys away would be much longer.
“These days away from the city have been the happiest days of my life, I believe. It has all been a beautiful dream, sometimes tranquil, sometimes fantastic, and with enough pain and tragedy to make the delights possible by contrast. But the pain too has become unreal.”
Everett spent his days walking through the canyons with his burros. He was captivated by his surroundings and by the ancient Native American people who once called these lands their home. He wrote about his adventures climbing up to the ancient sites to find pottery or jewelry.
Everett sent some of these things home to his parents, Christopher and Stella. But Everett, like most of us, had a dark side. He suffered loneliness and insecurity. He shared his anguish with his friends and family.
“I think I have seen too much and known too much-” he wrote, “so much that it has put me in a dream which I cannot waken and be like other people. I love beauty but have no longer the desire to recreate it.”
Everett Ruess was last seen in Escalante, Utah in November of 1934. Search parties were sent out and recovered some of his belongings but his body has never been found. In the last eighty three years, many people have been drawn to Everett’s story. His family helped keep the legend of Everett alive through publishing his journals, poems and artwork. After his parents passed away, his older brother Waldo took on the task. Thanks to the family’s hard work and persistence, Everett has become a symbol of freedom, independence and exploration.
Everett’s artwork and his quotes have been made into bookmarks, journals, and calendars. He often referred to himself as a “Vagabond for Beauty” and this became the title that his parents chose for a book from his journals.
“Say that I starved; that I was lost and weary: That I was burned and blinded by the desert sun; Footsore, thirsty, sick with strange diseases;Lonely and wet and cold…but that I kept my dream!
I traveled to the southwest a couple of years ago. I had already read a couple of books on Everett and was able to travel in some of the same locations. My boyfriend and I visited the Grand Canyon, we walked the ru
ins in Mesa Verde, and even made a side trip to Kayenta in Arizona. Kayenta was where Everett started out from when he left for the Monumental Valley during his last trip. We stopped in Kayenta before we made our own trip to the valley.
Kayenta Rock 2015
It was an incredible trip and I was awe struck by the beauty of the land. It is easy to understand why Everett was drawn to it. We traveled 2,500 miles in ten days during that trip. After that trip, I felt that I understood Everett (and myself) a little better. Everett wrote many letters to his family and friends. One of these to a young lady included the following excerpt:
“But as much as I love people, the most important thing to me is still the nearly unbearable beauty of what I see. I won’t wish that you could see it, for you might not find it easy to bear either, but yet I do sincerely wish for you at least a little of the impossible.”
Everett’s disappearance has never been solved. Many people have debated that his art was mediocre, his writing immature, and whether anyone would have paid it any attention at all if he had lived. None of that matters to me. I was impressed with Everett’s dedication to filling his life with experiences, to his pursuit of beauty, and to his ability to recognize and enjoy the feeling of complete awe.
I have spent my life in the same pursuits but though I too feel the pull of the road, I don’t need the solitude that Everett required. I am fortunate to have a partner that lets me drag him into the wilderness as often as we can. But the same things are what keeps my eyes turning toward the road and always dreaming of my next great adventure.
A portion of a book I came across recently explains it much better that I ever could. It was an excerpt from an article in the Idaho Evening Times from Twin Falls in December 1928 that was quoted in the book by Brad Dimock, Sunk without a Sound. In it, the author seeks to articulate the need for adventure. “Life is not a cut and dried proposition. It may be to some few of us who live by rule and rote. There are others who demand the more spectacular, even the dangerous, before their lives can be lived. We of sedentary habits may decry their daring and the risks they take-unnecessary by our standards- but life would be a sorry spectacle if all of humanity were cast in the mold of the commonplace.”
“The desire to fly, the desire to scale mountains never before conquered by man, the desire to make speed in vehicles propelled on the earth have all been challenges. They were answered by venturesome souls, some of whom have lost their lives.”
So, the next time you feel the pull of the road, catch an amazing sunset, or see a rainbow, take a moment to reflect on the wonder of the world around you. Every day is a gift and though most of us are not as dedicated to beauty as Everett Ruess, we all can be adventurers in our own way.
Block Print- Everett Ruess Self Portrait 1933
List of Books I read about Everett Ruess:
Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty, Author W.L.Rusho
Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife. Author:Philip L. Fradkin
Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer. Author: David Roberts
The Disappearances: A Story of Exploration, Murder and Mystery in the American West, Author Scott Thybony
Vanished! Explorers Forever Lost. Author: Evan L. Balkan
Without a Trace. Author: Troy Taylor
Copyright © 2017 Kathi Kresol.