Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer
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Finding Everett Ruess by David Roberts, with a foreword by Jon Krakauer, is the definitive biography of the artist, writer, and eloquent celebrator of the wilderness whose bold solo explorations of the American West and mysterious disappearance in the Utah desert at age 20 have earned him a large and devoted cult following. More than 75 years after his vanishing, Ruess stirs the kinds of passion and speculation accorded such legendary doomed American adventurers as Into the Wild’s Chris McCandless and Amelia Earhart.
“I have not tired of the wilderness; rather I enjoy its beauty and the vagrant life I lead, more keenly all the time. I prefer the saddle to the street car and the star sprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities.” So Everett Ruess wrote in his last letter to his brother. And earlier, in a valedictory poem, ”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!"
Wandering alone with burros and pack horses through California and the Southwest for five years in the early 1930s, on voyages lasting as long as ten months, Ruess also became friends with photographers Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange, swapped prints with Ansel Adams, took part in a Hopi ceremony, learned to speak Navajo, and was among the first "outsiders" to venture deeply into what was then (and to some extent still is) largely a little-known wilderness.
When he vanished without a trace in November 1934, Ruess left behind thousands of pages of journals, letters, and poems, as well as more than a hundred watercolor paintings and blockprint engravings. A Ruess mystique, initiated by his parents but soon enlarged by readers and critics who, struck by his remarkable connection to the wild, likened him to a fledgling John Muir. Today, the Ruess cult has more adherents—and more passionate ones—than at any time in the seven-plus decades since his disappearance. By now, Everett Ruess is hailed as a paragon of solo exploration, while the mystery of his death remains one of the greatest riddles in the annals of American adventure. David Roberts began probing the life and death of Everett Ruess for National Geographic Adventure magazine in 1998. Finding Everett Ruess is the result of his personal journeys into the remote areas explored by Ruess, his interviews with oldtimers who encountered the young vagabond and with Ruess’s closest living relatives, and his deep immersion in Ruess’s writings and artwork. It is an epic narrative of a driven and acutely perceptive young adventurer’s expeditions into the wildernesses of landscape and self-discovery, as well as an absorbing investigation of the continuing mystery of his disappearance.
In this definitive account of Ruess's extraordinary life and the enigma of his vanishing, David Roberts eloquently captures Ruess's tragic genius and ongoing fascination.
From the Hardcover edition.
Everett felt life loosen its grip. From this altar of beauty, he gazed one last time across the horizon. Content that he had kept his dream, Everett knew he was now going to make his destiny. What the actual agent of Everett’s suicide might have been, Bergera does not venture to guess. In the end, the scenario is simply a romantic fantasy, to which few of the partisans who make up the Ruess cult subscribe. Along with well-thought-out and sensitive commentaries such as Bergera’s, the enigma
calling Lan Rameau a “brush name,” the sixteen-year-old made it clear that in the wilderness he felt himself to be an altogether different person from the one who chafed impatiently at home in Los Angeles. Everett elaborated in a letter to Bill Jacobs: As to my pen name, although it is really a brush name, I am still in turmoil, but I think that I will heroically stand firm in the face of all misunderstandings and mispronunciations. I’ll simply have to lead a dual existence.… The name is LAN
novel A Dream of John Ball; Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”; George Bernard Shaw’s Socialism for Millionaires; a government report of a survey among Navajos; religious tracts the zealous Mormon Mr. Crosby had given him; and assorted newspapers and magazines he found in stores and homes along the way. In terms of his own Southwest odyssey, the most interesting book Everett read that summer is one whose title and author he does not name. On July 12 his diary reports
within the Navajo reservation. Despite his ambivalence about Indian character, Everett was determined to learn more about Navajo culture, and to teach himself a serviceable vocabulary of Diné words. Whether or not Everett was truly bipolar, as some analysts would have us believe, he certainly underwent extreme mood swings over short periods of time. On May 5, the same day that he wrote his plaintive letter to Frances, he dashed off another to Bill Jacobs that is full of exuberance and triumph.
qualification, And who spent the rest of their days keeping his flame alive Wherever poets, adventurers and wanderers of the Southwest gather, the story of Everett Ruess will be told. His name, like woodsmoke, conjures far horizons. —Hugh Lacy, 1938 CONTENTS Cover Other Books by This Author Title Page Copyright Dedication Epigraph Foreword by Jon Krakauer Author’s Note Map Prologue PART ONE: THE DESIRE TO LIVE One: “I Have Given the Wind My Pledge” Two: “I Have Been