“Because we have forgotten our kinship with the land,” she continued, “our kinship with each other has become pale. We shy away from accountability and involvement. We choose to be occupied which is quite different from being engaged.” (from Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams)
photos taken at Glacier National Park, mid September
I’ve been back home for a few days, vacationing and visiting friends and my family. It’s been so nice to be away from work for a little while (even if I keep checking my email #guilty).
While the leaves are changing in Montana, the last of the wild flowers are still blooming here. We took a walk on the Antietam National Battlefield the other night and enjoyed the beautiful meadows they maintain there. I’ve walked over Antietam my whole life but never tire of the rolling hills and farm fields; it’s one of my favorite places to go when I’m home.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I will never tire of the first snow. Montana allows me to experience this sweet phenomenon much earlier than most places in America, early September, this year! I drove up to Glacier to do a hike at a lower elevation but had to head up the road to see and feel the first signs of winter all around.
These photos are not taken in black and white, but rather reflect the deeply moody nature of a fog covered mountain after snow. The flakes were tiny but gathering up quickly, the thermometer in my car reading 27* at the highest point in the road I could get to. I love the feeling of snow in the air- there is nothing as pure.
I’d like a solid six weeks of autumn first, but this snow is so sweet.
When I have a day off, I do my very best to wake early and hightail it to the mountains- Glacier, the Jewel, Whitefish Range, where ever seems appealing that day given weather and time. I value these days apart so much, especially when they feel few and far between. I have spent hundreds of hours out in the woods in Montana and have hiked hundreds of miles over these past two years which I consider such a gift of living here. Sometimes I hike with a crew or a partner, and love those hours of conversation or comfortable silence as we push our bodies up and over mountain tops, but sometimes I hike alone- just me, my bear spray & those big mountains.
Gale over at She-Explores recently put out a question to listeners of her podcast- do you enjoy hiking, camping and/or backpacking solo? At what age did you start hiking, camping, and/or backpacking solo? Did it feel natural or did it take you time to get used to it? What are the benefits of taking on solo challenges in the wild? What are the risks?
Today, I started out to hike to Granite Park Chalet after my hopes of hiking Swiftcurrent Lookout this week were dashed by snow. The first snow hit Glacier earlier this week and the peaks are coated in white, fading below treeline to the speckled yellow and red of early autumn. I started out at the Loop, with a light mist falling, cold, but not enough to bother me. I hiked up the switchbacks and watched in wonder as the clouds shifted, catching glimpses of the freshly capped peaks. After about 2 and 1/2 miles a couple stopped me on the trail, sharing that they had run into a bear and 2 cubs, on the trail about 1/4 mile from us. They noted that the bear wasn’t moving and that she wasn’t pleased with their attempts to get her to move on. I nodded, heard them say that there were other people in front of them, and headed forward; often, bears will move on quickly and the trail will clear. Shortly after, 3 other groups of hikers passed me the other way, all noting that the bears were staying put and that they felt it was best to turn around. That, coupled with the increasing snow and the fact that I’ve done this particular hike before, factored into my decision to turn around.
I don’t go to the mountains just to summit peaks or rack up mileage, I go because the woods are the place where I recenter.
The breeze lifting the leaves toward the sky- a warning of weather to come.
The way water makes it’s way through the smallest cracks in the rock- modeling perseverance and patience.
How vibrantly trees give up their leaves in autumn- a brilliant lesson in resiliency.
All of it teaching me, helping me remember what’s important in this life, renewing my spirit after long days of work and humbling me in perspective. Wilderness does not exist for us, but in spite of us. It is an immense gift to be able to experience it, a gift of which I will never tire.
Being alone in the woods doesn’t scare me. I am deeply aware of the inherent risks that come with walking alone through grizzly country or walking a ridge line solo, but I manage them with experience, like today, when turning around when it seemed the best practice. My parents taught me from an early age how to rely on myself, with the proper preparation and awareness of my surroundings. For me, being alone in the woods is empowering and soul centering.
However, I constantly experience secondhand concern about my hiking alone.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Don’t end up like one of those stories you hear on the news…”
“I don’t understand why a pretty girl like you lives in the woods alone.”
& my favorite, slightly threatening comment-
“Does your father know you’re out here alone? What would he think?”
(for the record, my father taught me how to be alone in the woods)
I’ve heard these comments on summits and at trailheads, at my place of work (which also happens to be my home), in the middle of crowded chalets in casual conversation with other hikers. It is almost always men questioning me, while their hiking partners are quiet in the background. I understand that many of these comments are out of genuine concern, but I have never heard anyone question a man hiking alone in the same way. Unfortunately, our society spends a lot of time editing what women can and cannot do, alone or otherwise.
I appreciate the way that hikers and backpackers look out for one another, and I am always, always happy to chat with fellow hikers, but I am careful to question anyone’s motives- each of us has our own story, our own path leading us to this one. Warn me of the bear ahead, ask me how I’m doing, tell me good luck, but please, don’t assume that my solo womanhood is inherently dangerous.
Women can do anything. ANYTHING. This is a truth I have been taught my whole life, from my badass paramedic/ camp director mama, from my incredible, creative camp counselors, from my brilliant professors and supportive friends. I am so grateful to be surrounded by truth telling, compassionate, courageous and loving women and hope so much to inspire others to be the same. We are out there, millions of us, hiking alone and enjoying the woods or city streets or suburban parks. Thank you to all the women who go and have gone alone, for inspiring me.
If you want to be alone in the woods, do your research, understand the risks and get out there, regardless of gender. And if you don’t want to go solo, find a friend! I really encourage other women to try a hike alone, to allow yourself to be immersed in the quiet of the woods, to feel the power of your own body as you traverse across the land, to allow your instincts to keep you safe. I would love to hear other women’s experiences with hiking alone!
There is so much to see in this big world, and I don’t want to miss any of it.
Be brave, y’all; wild is within you.
sister visits are the best.
Thanks for hiking up mountains with me, taking beautiful photos and picking good music. So glad you could be here! I’m so proud of you & all you’ve accomplished this past year- love you, g.
These days are long and tiring and joyful and sometimes too hard and heartbreaking and often full of grace and laughter and life. Sometimes people say that summer camp is some sort of separate reality apart from the “real world” and I have to push back against that and testify that my life is very capital R real. The news of the world is always present. Our campers and counselors have all of their stories and experiences within them, informing the way they are part of this place. People love and hurt and forgive and make peace here every day. The magic of camp is that we work so hard toward the common good and an honest, intentional community, promoting love and helping one another work through all the realness of our lives.
I have felt very stretched this summer, in my many roles at camp and in my personal life. I often feel like there is too much to do, and not enough hours in the day to be present for the staff and campers AND get everything done. I don’t like that feeling. I don’t do well when I don’t have time to play and relax and have honest conversations. I am working so hard to be present in this space and time; please say some prayers for me along those lines. Alongside those emotions, I often feel like my heart could burst because I am so lucky to work with and witness the staff loving these kids and just truly being themselves. I hope they know how loved and appreciated they are.
One of my favorite pieces of camp life is how often we sing together, during worship, meals, games, in between times. It is a gift to live in a community that celebrates in music. This summer I have been meditating on these lines, from Canticle of the Turning:
“though I am small, my God, my all, you will work great things in me.”
& from the Prayer of Good Courage:
“give us good courage, not knowing where we’ll go; to know that your hand is leading us, wherever we may go.”
Each season has its peaks and valleys; give us courage through it all.
be brave, y’all; you are loved.
It is hard to describe the emotions of a day here at camp, from stress to joy, from exhaustion to elation, from a centered heart to a scattered mind- each minute is different. At the end of each day,I usually sit and watch the lake for awhile, focusing on the joys of this place.
Lately I’ve been grateful for falling asleep after seeing these views,
A consideration of how the sun looks on the water at twilight, when the days stretch their long arms toward the horizon. I imagine the sun as a child; one more minute, one more minute, stubborn at the end of the day. Sparrows carve quick circles in the heated summer air, the dark green of their backs gleaming in sunset. With each careful dive they are collecting & gathering & building their homes; they are doing their most important work.
Summer has always been a season when I feel deeply rooted in this place, with these people, building my own home, piece by piece. This act of being together is our own most important work. Welcome, summer!
I am so thankful for these beautiful, brave souls who have been called to serve here. The laughter, joy, honesty, resilience and courage they share every day is such a gift. Here we go, summer 2016!