Recently, I’ve thought a lot about women, men and spaces. Men know how to take and dominate space. Women are taught to make themselves smaller, to curl up within themselves, to be quiet, for safety, for societal structure, for appeasement. And I am no different in knowing this. Recounting the endless examples of male dominated spaces (the trail, the workplace, concerts, pretty much any open area I find myself in), I am reminded of the need to find my own ways of carve out the space I need to feel safe in, strategically. A person at work does his very best to remain clueless to the growing concern of how he treats the women in the workplace and the women who don’t meet his standards of femininity and attractiveness. It is utterly exhausting to have to hear the things that come out of his mouth and decide whether or not to speak up. All while wearing my Smash the Demon Lizard Patriarchy t-shirt, falling on blind eyes. Most days, I do what I can to lead a revolt, but it certainly is hard to do that in a workplace where it is expected to just deal with it and move on. And much of the time I just have to get away and get out! Every time I get hiking, biking, paddling, climbing, or running, I focus on reclamation of the space by wiping the slate clean. I am here now, within my own space. A place to forget the nonsense of most days being surrounded by others and those who refuse to acknowledge bad behavior. To feel a sense of belonging to the natural world, to be together and alone, without the feeling of intrusion, the safest place I can think of. I try to give myself these moments as much as possible. Here is a brief account of such a time on a summer morning in Maine.
There are few reasons I will rouse myself out of bed at 3am. To catch a flight for an out of town adventure, chase the sunrise on the beach, or climb a mountain to pick wild blueberries in the fog are all good enough reasons for me. The second or third week of July is when wild blueberries are beginning to ripen here in Maine and if one is motivated enough, climbing up a 3,000 foot mountain is the best way to get your blueberry harvest on. Without the hassle of elbowing with other humans, to get first pick at the previously untouched, newly rained upon patches.
This July, I got my ass up at 0300 hours, did my regular morning routine and got on the road and to the trailhead of Little Jackson mountain in Western Maine at 6am. It was misty, warm and foggy and perfect hiking weather. My partner and I foraged wild chanterelles (mushrooms) along the trail, great for omelets. Remember where they grew, for they will be back next year. Making our way up the steady incline, we passed old dead birch trees, standing eerily amidst the fog. Parts of the bald ridge line along the ascent were some of the first blueberry patches we encountered. We stopped to pick here but didn’t want to fill our containers too early, with anticipation of many more patches awaiting. Closer to the summit, the wind and rain became intense for some time cloaking any views in a wall of grey and white. One brief peek through the clouds revealed Webb Lake to the south of us.
Once on top, we took shelter on the summit behind a previously built rock formation, hydrating and eating our sandwiches, waiting for the rain to die down somewhat. We finished, walked around to the south side of the mountain and found a giant, pocketed berry patch. We had the place to ourselves and we foraged with zest, discussing the green and yellow ferns popping in the grey fog, the serene quiet that we had found in this patch and how lucky we were to be there at that moment. We relished the truly magical morning we had experienced, sampling our goods and making plans for them (muffins, crisp, salads oh my!). The wild chanterelle omelet turned out killer also. As we filled our containers and descended, the pockets of sun started poking through heavy clouds, revealing green, grey, yellow and red foliage and granite surrounding us. Let’s go back in a couple weeks we said, when even more will have produced! We can freeze them and bake treats all winter!
My version of perfection is solitude on a mountain with blueberries on top. The space to be free from feelings of any intrusions, dominance, ignorance or invisibility. To not have to worry about whether or not I’m going to say something about being interrupted, ignored, or cluelessly put down. Because, as a woman, I am expecting myself to speak up when I witness and hear misogyny, but at the rate I hear and witness it, I would be speaking out daily. Sometimes I need to take a break from speaking up, by shutting up and breathing in the fresh air, on top of a mountain, in solitude. These are the moments where I can find new breath to be able to speak up next time I hear or witness something. The clarity washes over my mind and I am once again, filled with confidence, courage and calm. And that is what I need, to be able to face whatever the next day will bring.