"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Backpacking with Teens, Part One: Wild Young Women!

I have spent five out of the last seven days in the woods.  With teenagers.

I can hear some of you rolling your eyes.  (Yes, I can hear it.)  No need.  These teens blasted all stereotypes of what teens are supposed to be.  In fact, it is safe to say that I have just returned from two of the most enjoyable backpacking trips of my life.

I led both of these trips as part of an independent study for graduate school titled, "Backpacking as a Transformational Journey."  My experiences living in the wilderness with all I need strapped to my back have taught me invaluable lessons about simplicity, courage, and humility.  I wanted to see if I could share these gifts with some young people close to my heart, and hopefully inspire some of them to continue on their own transformational wilderness journeys.

The first trip was a women's trip.  My friend, Shelley, and I took three girls who have recently graduated from my school on a 10-mile weekend trip to Signal Knob.  We pushed ourselves physically and practiced/learned wilderness skills, but the most important part about this trip was the emphasis on womanhood.

At the summit of Signal Knob

I had been studying the "wild woman" archetype in stories throughout history and among many cultures.  I learned that all girls are born with a bit of wild woman in them, and most learn to suppress, tame, and quiet her down until she is socially acceptable and "nice."  I wanted to welcome these teenage girls into womanhood by making sure they know just how powerful they are.

Listening to a lesson on meditation during a time of stillness at an overlook

Taking a break to climb a tree - a worthwhile diversion for any young woman!

The highlight of this trip for all of us was probably swimming in the reservoir.  We took a little detour off the trail to strip down to our skivvies and swim in a very deep reservoir.  As we slurped and slushed through the mud at the bank, I thought, surely they'll think this is gross any minute and get out.  But no.

Swimming in the reservoir

As we began swimming out into the deep middle, and fishes began to swim at our feet and between our legs, again I was sure they would squeal and want to get out.  But no.  So we swam all the way out to a concrete tower/drain in the middle of the reservoir, climbed up, and jumped off its 10-foot platform again and again, laughing and cheering each other on.

Our diving board (that's us hanging off the ladder on the side).

My favorite part was when we decided to swim out of the reservoir the shorter way, which meant we needed to hike barefoot in our underwear along the trail back to our packs.  What an image!

At the end of the trip, each girl was given a meaningful trail name by Shelley and me, who had been observing their characteristics and behavior on the trip.

These young women taught me more than I could have planned to teach them with dozens of carefully-prepared lessons.  They demonstrated more courage than I ever had at their age.  Being around their energy gave me a renewed hope for the future, and a new sense of inspiration on my own path.

The girls built this fire all by themselves.

I can confidently say that the Wild Woman is not dead.  Not at all.  She is alive, well, and dancing her howling dance through the next generation of womb-bearers and earth-nourishers.  I am grateful for the chance I had to bear witness.

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