In my entire adult life, until today, I have never managed to go for a long hike in the woods by myself. I have started to, a few times, but always turned around in fear before I managed to go very far. No, I am not afraid of the woods. I admit I am easily startled by even small wild animals, but that isn’t why I have feared such hikes. Some of you know I can be a bit clumsy, and this might be a good reason to avoid heading into the woods solo, however, even the fear of injury hasn’t been the thing that stopped me.
I don’t walk alone in the woods because I am afraid of men. More specifically, I have been afraid of finding myself alone and isolated with a passing stranger who might seize this moment of vulnerability and take advantage of it. Or a couple of passing strangers.
I have had many arguments, with myself and others, about whether this is a realistic fear. I have debated the relative merits of curtailing activities in order to feel more secure (thereby holding myself back from fully experiencing things that might enrich my life) OR of taking a more courageous stance and going full steam ahead in spite of fear. In spite of what I have learned to think about as a woman in this world – that I might be easy prey for someone stronger than me.
I have been working to fear less in my life. And today just seemed like a good day to set forth on my own. I felt trepidation. When I experienced a bout of vertigo upon stepping too close the edge of a rocky cliff, I worried that I might be incompetent to hike alone on a ridge-top trail! Twice (in the same spot, headed out and back in) I encountered a beaver who was as startled to see me as I was to see him. The only other people I encountered in the woods today were men, also out enjoying nature alone (well, one guy had a baby snuggled to his chest). I tried to cross paths with them confidently and with trust in my heart.
It was beautiful, cool and crisp in the green woods. So quiet I could hear trees creaking in the wind. So still at moments that the shy blue dragonflies hovered all around me, nearly alighting on my toes a couple of times.
A few hours after returning from my hike, I sat chatting in a friend’s living room. She asked if I had told anyone where I was going, when I would be back. She scolded me for not doing so, and shook her head at my impulsive trek. I could only agree with her.
And yet. There was a moment on my solo walk, breathing deeply in the loveliness and solitude, when I felt such happiness that I literally broke into a run. Me. Running. Not in fear, but in joy.