Denali: A Man, a Dog, and the Friendship of a Lifetime is a book I’m not sure I was ready to read. It’s been a year since I lost my closest friend, and I knew this book would bring me back to some feelings that I didn’t really want to revisit.
Author Ben Moon is a world class adventure photographer, who turned the subjective lens inward for this autobiographical account of his battle with colorectal cancer while in his twenties. The primary focus was on the love and unyielding support of his best friend and adventure buddy Denali.
Denali was there for Moon throughout his ups and downs, and in the end, Moon was also there for his best friend as Denali eventually suffered through that same disease.
Ben Moon’s story is filled with all the excitement you would expect from an adventure photographer trying to make it big while starting from uniquely humble origins. Growing up in an off-the-grid family on a secluded piece of forested Michigan land, finding success as a rower in college, falling in love, and losing love, moving west, hearing the call of climbing, surfing, photography, and of course adopting Denali. They were ideal companions.
Throughout all of Moon’s adventures, his gains, his losses, his travels, his mistakes, his struggles, and successes, Denali was right there by his side. When Moon was diagnosed with cancer and had to give up most of those adventures while trying to fight this disease, Denali did everything in his power to be there for his best friend.
Moon is spectacularly open with his own vulnerabilities which is inspirational to see from such a renowned artist and noted badass. He shows us a side of himself through his sufferings that forces the reader pull for him in sincerely affectionate ways. Moon’s openness also allows us to discern exactly how vital the relationship between him and Denali was.
The love between a dog and their human is profound, and the relationship between Moon and Denali captures that depth exquisitely.
This book did in fact bring back the feelings I was afraid of, but it also brought a sense of comfort and happy memories that made this book valuable in an unexpected way.
Beyond this book, Moon made a thoroughly enjoyable and beautiful short called Denali. The making of this film and Moon’s venture into a new artistic direction was a nice way to both end his book and show that through loss comes growth.
The book aesthetic uses some of Moon’s photos featuring both him and Denali, as well as the music from his friend Jack Johnson. As always it feels impossible to capture the full range of emotions in such a short clip, but it was fun to try!
For September we are heading out to the Appalachian Trail. September’s read will be Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. If you want to read along, HERE is a link to the book!