Tag Archives: self-worth

A Lone Woman Wandering In The Woods

Where’s all the other mountain mamas?

Seriously. In a survey of through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, only 23% were female. When I worked on a trail crew in Vermont, there was only two other women besides me on my 9-person crew (one was the awesome crew leader…) and I noticed a similar imbalance on the other crews from the conservation corps. When I tagged along on a class backpacking trip from my former high school as a chaperone, I noticed an even more dramatic gender distribution: I was the only woman on the trip! And earlier this year, I was talking with my aunt about my interest in taking some classes at a primitive skills school, only to be startled when she told me that the instructors have a reputation for trying to put the moves on any young, attractive female students that come their way. Great-that’s really comforting.

So where’s all the other women exploring the great outdoors? I know there’s more of us out there, but we’re few and far between, or so it seems. It’s not as if we can’t do it. Before the walling off of the world and the rise of civilization, as humanity spread to all corners of the earth, women survived in the same harsh conditions and endured the same dangers that men did-and sometimes carrying a baby on their back or in their belly, too. Many mystical traditions see nature as female, and women by extension as having some sort of mysterious connection with nature. As women are so closely associated and involved with the creation and nurturing of life (even for those of you who can’t have children or don’t want to-there’s some ancient deep part of your consciousness that knows) we also have a deeper concept of our mortality and the fragility of life. Nature is very cyclical and death and life are closely intertwined. Because of its ability to create, destroy, then re-create in cycles, nature is associated with female-ness. I could agree with this; I feel pulled along by the mysterious cycles and currents of the natural world.  Yes, Nature is a mother, but she can be one mean mama.

Partly I think it’s because our view of nature has changed. In a way, even perceiving nature as something separate and removed from us is a great change from when it was simply…home, mother, whatever-an entity that could both give and take, create and destroy. Now nature is seen as an adversary, something to be conquered rather than feared, respected, thanked for our daily existence. And conquering is not thought of as something women do. There’s also a pervasive stereotype of the lone wolf isolated badass woodsman type. I seem to see this a lot in the backpacking/nomadic/bushcraft community. Guys just want to play caveman and grow a beard and get some nature-related tattoos and stomp around in the woods feeling all badass. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in itself. But for those of us with neither the capacity for beard-growing or lone wolfiness can feel a little put off and feel like we don’t have what it takes to survive in the great outdoors. Also, on the whole solitude thing: humans are not solitary animals. In fact, in modern studies of hunter-gatherer groups living in remote areas, people tended to value companionship and cooperation, and formed close social bonds with their small group. There’s many reasons for this, not the least of which is that an extra set of eyes and ears helps alert you to dangers you might not otherwise notice, and a second pair of hands helps deal with danger when it arises. And human contact and human voices are essential for the health of the mind and emotions, just as good clean food and water are essential for the health of the body. In fact, it’s good to take your friends and family into the wild with you; you will develop a closer connection sharing space and time and conversation with them uninterrupted by the noise of industrial civilization (which is good for many things, like the invention of antibiotics and hot showers, but not conducive to deep social bonding.)

There’s also a message that women get fed from a very young age, whether unintentionally or intentionally: You are weak, you are especially vulnerable, you should not go out on your own somewhere. The world is out to get you and exploit your weaknesses, you should be very much afraid and ever vigilant because you’re a woman! Eventually your gender can start to feel like a liability or something. But don’t listen; channel the spirit of your ancient ancient ancestresses. Get outside. Have fun. If you’re really concerned, bring a friend, as mentioned before: an extra set of eyes, ears, and hands.

 

Fellow mountain mamas, I’ll see you on the other side of the hill!

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I loved, I lost, I insulated some walls

In March, the love of my life went AWOL, and I insulated some walls.

Don’t talk to me, don’t ever come in my workplace again and sit there staring at me while you drink your coffee, I told you I wanted to be left alone, I told you to respect my boundaries, but you continue to ignore them, I want to remain friends with you but understand that nothing can ever happen between us again. Fine. I can live with that, because I know this has happened before, and with worse fighting, and we’ll just end up in bed together inside of 2 months when he gets lonely. I try to put away my concerns and focus on the trailer.

It’s finally starting to come together; the trailer looks more…real with the floor in place, like it could be a place to live, not a dingy mobile equipment shed. My stepdad comes over with his Sawzall to cut a hole in the side and top of the trailer to install a window and skylight. Since I can’t cut through the metal ribs that form the trailer’s frame, I chose a small window specifically designed for use in a trailer. There’s also trailer skylights available-try looking for an “RV skylight”, it’s just a specially shaped plastic bubble that can be installed on the roof of a trailer. I installed the window and skylight, sealing them against the weather with a healthy bead of caulk.

Then I started in on the insulation.

My father suffers from the after-effects of chronic Lyme disease, which he waged war against on various fronts for many years; one of these fronts, eventually, was IV antibiotics. They came packed in giant cardboard boxes, cushioned by gel refrigerant packs and squares of styrofoam. It was the foam squares I was after; we had a huge sack of this spent ordnance from the Lyme wars lying around the attic. With a little inventive measuring and cutting, the foam squares fit between the ribs of the trailer’s frame perfectly. Basically, I was following the pattern of a traditional frame wall, with a frame inside, insulation in the gaps, covered inside by paneling and outside by the trailer’s aluminum skin-an insulated, weathertight “sandwich”. I chose foam board for insulation over fiberglass or spray foam for several reasons, the most important being that it’s super easy to install and takes up very little space (important in my trailer.) I couldn’t have it sticking out past the metal ribs, because then I couldn’t attach my wall panels, so I went for the thickest piece that would work, which was about 1″. I also bought 3/4″ foam  board insulation to use on the roof, as it would bend to accommodate the slight bow in the roof. All in all, it took 1 bag of foam board squares and 3 large sheets of foam board insulation to insulate the ceiling and 3 walls (I left the back door uninsulated, planning to hang an insulating curtain in front of it so I could still use the door.)  Meanwhile, things seemed to be warming up a little between me and my angry lover. I even thought I might get to see him soon.

Motivated by foolish hope and happiness, I began to put my walls up. Most of the original paneling was in good condition, marred only by a few easily fillable dents, cheap trim, and ugly paint. I pried off the cheap plastic trim with a flat-bar and reinstalled the panels in their original locations, even using the original fasteners and pre-drilled holes (this was convenient, because the panels had to be attached to the metal frame, and drilling pilot holes into the metal was a pain. i went through many drill bits.) To fasten anything to the trailer’s frame, I had to use self-tapping screws, a type of screw that cuts threads into metal or plastic when screwed in. They’re identifiable by the small notch cut into the tip.

For the ceiling, which had previously been bare, I used sheets of 1/4″ plywood. I had to cut it into sections to be able to bend it enough. I cut it into thin strips that just spanned the gap between each set of metal ribs. Then, I covered every other section of the roof with the plywood, attaching it on both sides to the roof-ribs with 3/4″ self-tapping screws. To cover the spaces in between, I cut the 1/4″ plywood wide enough to slightly overlap the plywood I’d already attached. Obviously this didn’t look super finished and professional, but I liked the shingled look it gave my roof. Unfortunately, the wall panels didn’t reach all the way up to the ceiling, so I was left with a gap in the paneling where the top edge of the wall met the ceiling; it was at an odd angle, with nothing really to screw into. This would prove to be quite a pain later.

Then I made the worst mistake of my life: thinking he was about to come back to me. I was convinced that beyond all odds I had managed to be patient enough to merit a final chance at redeeming myself, but this was my downfall. Almost a month after he had first gone missing, he told me he was reunited with a previous girlfriend, who he had been seeing before me. He described her as the love of his life, and told me not to feel replaced because “what I have with her is nothing like what I had with you”. He reminded me that he had lived with her before moving to the area, a privilege I had never enjoyed. Every time I closed my eyes I imagined them together. It was torture, despite my daily reminders to myself that other people were far worse-off and had more difficult things to bear than I. So I tried to concentrate on building the trailer, so I could move on, away from a town where everything reminded me of him. But the construction was delayed for weeks while I flailed around helplessly in a soup of ugly feelings. Finally I managed to pull it together enough to salvage some trim from a trash pile behind a notoriously snooty local dance studio, and paint the walls with 2 coats of linen white left over from my mom’s house. Installing the trim was difficult; the trim nails were hard to drive in because the paneling behind the trim was really thin and absorbed the force of the hammer blows by bending or bouncing back. It was easy to bend a nail or smash a thumb; I did both many times. If you’re doing a trailer conversion like me, remember to nail into something solid, or consider using small screws, or use very thin trim and just attach with construction adhesive.

Anyway, I made it, and the hurt is a little less every day-even less now that I’m busier and know that I’m getting out of here soon.

 

And my walls still stand, and protect me from rain and wind just fine.

Dead Turtles, Renaissance Faires, and Stripper Memoirs: a meditation on mental freedom

I’ve had a strange couple of weeks. Or informative, depending on how you look at it. The weeks leading up to my 20th birthday invited a lot of depressed navel-gazing about what I’ve done with my life, where it’s going, and my continuing discomfort with who I am and how I present to the world. I’ve always seen myself as too big, loud, awkward, inauthentic, ignorant, or just generally unworthy to let my authentic self hang out for everyone to see. This gets pretty painful in social situations and makes it hard for me to find like minded people. I’m always mentally dissecting myself and editing my personality. I wear baggy clothing in public to avoid attracting stares, and I always hesitate to start a new activity because I’m so harsh on myself when I’m in the learning phase; I even hesitate to tell people about my hobbies until I get good enough to “show off.” Other people notice. Everyone from my friends to former lovers have commented on my lack of self-confidence; in fact, I scared off the love of my life by relying so much on him to prop up my self worth, that I was more of a barnacle infestation than a girlfriend.

The week before my birthday, I picked up a copy of Bare, the memoir of a woman who worked as a stripper in Seattle. She eventually ended up leaving the business for a career in journalism, but before she did, she wrote extensively about the lives, views, and relationships of her co-workers. Contrary to what I expected, a lot of them felt no sense of embarrassment or shame about getting naked in front of paying strangers-in fact, some even said it gave them a sense of power.Many of them used the money they made stripping (lots of it!) to fund creative and educational endeavours and travel. One said that she liked working as a stripper because she was surrounded by other educated women! (This may be biased, after all they were in Seattle…) what a contrast between my philosophy (shame, hide behind a baggy sweatshirt) and theirs.

 

I was still thinking about this when my friend pulled the tiny baggie of dried mushrooms out of the trunk of his car a week later. “I ate a bunch yesterday, and gardened all day!” he said. He had been explaining to me that he ate the magic mushrooms once a year to mentally reset himself. He became too tense, too tangled up in the world’s expectations. That sounded like an exact description of what ailed me. I, too, needed a factory reset, I thought, as I chewed and swallowed the leathery little caps.

 

Within half an hour, the world swam and buzzed around my head, and the forest seemed suffused with an inner light of its own. The trees swayed in the wind, and I swayed with them; I only had to look at the bark on a tree or the veins on a leaf, and I became transfixed with the layers of infinite detail each contained, each layer laid out in such amazingly precise and complex pattern. The shades and colors of everything seemed not just brighter and more contrasting, but somehow alive-I could see every shade from cool lime green to rosy pink to hot orange in the dead wood of a fallen tree. My friend and I wandered through the woods and talked about things as they came up. I’m going to give you my favorite pearl of wisdom from my magic mushroom munching friend:

“The Earth is just a giant stomach that’s digesting everything on it. and once you realize this, you will worry a lot less about some things.”

This is true. Everything is born so it can die. The natural order of the universe is chaos. And why is this? So it can feed the cycle of life. And why is THIS? We don’t know. Some people believe that we create the universe in our minds. I believe the opposite: the universe creates us in its mind. We are the dream of the earth. And we are each a fleeting and tiny part of this dream. But do you know what that means? That you are no more or less important in the dream of the universe than the smallest dust speck, or a whole galaxy.

A week later, I found the turtle on the train tracks. Well, it was just dry bones and a shell at that point, but it looked to have been cut down in the prime of its life. And it wasn’t just dead, it was ripped apart and scattered along the train track; I found its bones spread out over a 15-foot section of track. As I squatted down by the tracks to pick up the bones, I thought about how the turtle had been smashed by a train as if it was nothing. And I realized, yes, I am like the turtle in a way, so are we all: we will all be crushed under the wheel of time as if we are nothing. I am just as vulnerable to age, heat, cold, sickness, injury, natural disaster, misfortune, as any one else, or as the turtle is to the train. I too can die.

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(Skull, claws, vertebrae, and shell-an architectural masterpiece)

But I didn’t want to be fixated on death. So I went to a Renaissance fair. A Renaissance fair is a crazy celebration of color, sound, smell, taste, texture…almost like my mushroom munching misadventure the week before. There were vendors of clothing, jewelry, toys, dishes, armor, feathers, flowers, and ornaments of every description; food, dancing, and music, and acrobats, and pirates, and snake-handlers. And then there were the guests’ costumes. For me, this was the best part of the faire. I went in costume and felt incredibly nervous-I thought I would be the only one there dressed up, or that my outfit wasn’t good enough. How wrong I was! More than half the guests were in costume, with outfits ranging from authentic custom-made armor to rainbow fairy wings to Gothic getups to pirates to a weaver in a dress made of genuine homespun cloth. And no one seemed self-conscious. People of all ages, body types, etc. were dressing up, getting in character (including attempts at old-timey speak, with varying degrees of authenticity!) and having lots of fun. I actually got stopped by several people who liked my outfit so much thy wanted to get pictures. So much for self-consciousness!

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(The woman next to me in the blue dress was a vendor-her dress was amazing!)

 

Anyway, the (metaphorical) fire burns low and my tale must draw to a close. But heed me well and listen to these lessons that I myself am still trying to learn, imparted by these events: Don’t be ashamed of the way you look. Be realistic, but don’t be ashamed. Don’t take yourself so seriously, don’t take others so seriously either! You, and they, are fleeting dreams of the universe, ultimately destined to meet the fate of the turtle on the train tracks, as is everything you hold on to so fiercely. Don’t be sad though, just appreciate the now for what it is. The earth is a stomach that’s digesting everything on it, but before you are digested, the dream of the earth wants you to be happy, and laugh, and wear bright colors, and get naked and roll around in the dirt, and eat ripe plums until you’re sick, and whatever else you need to do. Don’t worry-the universe is not taking score.