Book Review: “Bewildered” by Laura waters (@soultrekkers @laurawaters_writer @AffirmPress @EasternRegional)

Bewildered (Affirm Press, 2019) by Laura Waters

Bewildered, by local author Laura Waters, reminds this reviewer of Wild, the 2012 memoir by American author Cheryl Strayed.

Like Strayed, who hiked 1,770 kilometres on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, Waters went on a journey of self-discovery on foot. Armed with maps, a compass, and her life in a backpack, she set out to walk the untamed landscapes of the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand.

The 3,000-kilometre trail stretches over mountains and forests from Cape Reinga at the northernmost tip of New Zealand’s North Island to Bluff at the southernmost point of the South Island. It is infamously dangerous, even to the most experienced hikers.

For five months, Waters struggled against not only treacherous terrain and elements, but also the demons of self-doubt and anxiety. After ten years in the corporate world and a toxic relationship, it was the chance to examine herself – her fears and longings, who she had been and wanted to be.

Sometimes the inner battles are far more fierce than those outside. Hence the book is not just a beautifully written account of the challenges and triumphs faced by Waters and other hikers. It demonstrates the considerable courage and emotional integrity that the author took to confront her own vulnerability.

Like man vs nature, self-doubt vs self-belief is a universal theme, and it can be difficult to find the balance between saying enough and telling too much. In her pursuit of emotional wellbeing and fulfilling relationships – with others and herself – Waters wisely chose to surrender to the power of nature.

Either in total wilderness or back amid the so-called civilisation, it comes down to making one’s own informed decisions and shouldering responsibilities:

“Like most others in the modern world, I am trained for employment, to be a functioning citizen working under others and trusting they have the bigger picture under control… Being on unfamiliar ground with no clue or backup doesn’t happen often… Leading my own way has never really been on my radar. Until now.”

And, in the process, Waters discovered her self-worth – something simple but invaluable, not to be measured or bargained for, never to be replaced by or exchanged with in monetary or material terms. In her words:

“I recall department stores, shopping centres, acres of stuff waiting to be bought, bright lights, piped music, sales, buying just for the hell of it. My brain falters, retrieving memories from another life…

“For two and a half months I’ve happily existed with just 11 kilograms of belongings. I could list every item I currently ‘own’ off the top of my head. There is not one that I don’t regularly use nor is there anything I want for… I don’t need extra stuff in my life. Having less has made my life a whole lot simpler.”

Perhaps that is the message. As we are designed to live and work with nature, only by living as part of it and as its partner can we be truly fulfilled and happy.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “Laura Waters goes on a journey of self-discovery” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, August 16, 2022, P.25.

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