Prather’s Pick: A memoir about healing in the wild
Debby Parker was her given name. She was also known as “Wild Child,” her trail name, and after she finished walking the Pacific Crest Trail, she became Aspen Matis.
“Girl in the Woods” is a memoir, written by Aspen Matis. It is published by William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers (2015). The book went on sale Sept. 8, 2015. The hardcover edition sells for $24.99.
Debby Parker grew up in Newton, Massachusetts where she lived with her mother and father, both Boston lawyers, and her two older brothers. Debby’s mother called her “Doll Girl,” protected her fiercely and did everything for her, even dressing her through the high school years. At one point, Debby made a list of things she couldn’t do, such as ride a bike, put in her contact lenses and swallow a pill.
Debby’s grandparents live in Colorado Springs, and she loved going there as a child. When she graduated from high school, Debby chose Colorado College as her school. However, on her second night at the college she was raped by a fellow student. At the end of an internal college hearing, the mediator said the happening that night was inconclusive. Debby was left to believe that the rape was her fault. Even her family was not able to give Debby the help she needed.
Then Debby found a copy of “Travels in Alaska” in a box of books she had brought with her from home. She had found the book when she was 17 and had read John Muir’s words over and over. Debby had wanted to be as free as Muir was so, and just two months before college she had walked the Muir Trail from the Yosemite Valley through the High Sierras to the summit of Mount Whitney. It was part of a larger trail, known as PCT, that extends from Mexico to Canada, a 2,650 mile-long continuous footpath.
Debby thought about some of Muir’s written words, among them, “In God’s wilderness lies the hope of the world.” She needed to find beauty, strength and to face the trauma of rape. She made the decision to drop out of college and walk the 2,650-mile PCT.
Debby’s father drove her to Mexico where the journey would begin. It would take about five months at 20 miles per day to walk the 2,650 miles. She would pass through 26 national forests, seven national parks, five state parks and three national monuments. Her parents gave her a satellite phone so she could report her GPS coordinates. Since Debby could carry only about 11 pounds, her mother sent new running shoes and trail food via the mail, and Debby picked up the supplies at remote post offices.
Debby walked, she ran. She walked with others, she walked alone. She slept in her tent or under the stars. She overcame adverse weather conditions and learned to overcome fear of rattlesnakes. She met people of all ages, mostly men as there were few women on the trail. Always the rape was on her mind, and she believed it was her fault.
When Debby was a mile from the Oregon border, she became ill and too weak to walk. She was forced to fly home. Debby had MRSA, a bacterial infection that can turn fatal. But after she got better, Debby returned to exactly where she left off. The reader learns not only about her triumph in finishing the walk but also about her closure to the rape and more…
Aspen Matis is a writer living in Greenwich Village. She is finishing her degree while working on a novel.
While I read this novel I kept thinking how the word “raw” describes the author’s feelings following the rape and the adversities and living conditions she overcame on the trail.
And there is, indeed, strength. You will not forget this book.
Look for this book at area bookstores.
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