by Laurel Archer

From the shore of Toquart Bay on the west coast of Vancouver Island, I scan the horizon sporadically along with nine other women. Jan is my co-guide while the other eight are basically novice sea kayakers.

The wind is up already. We have a significant crossing ahead of us to get to the Broken Group Islands, our destination for this leg of the Wild Women Expeditions multi-sport adventure trip. Today we may not reach it. A strong northwester is blowing up. As I carefully check the loaded crafts on the beach, the somewhat nervous laughter of the women swirls around me, carried on the growing gusts.

With all equipment and gear in place and the hatches battened down, I suddenly connect with the moment entirely. All is as it should be. It is the inspiration found throughout our journey into the wild that matters, not the actual geographic location we set as a goal. It is my job to help this group navigate the challenges a route may present. This not just my career choice, this is my passion. The salt on my tongue says, “Alive! This what it means to really be alive!”

Today, we are heading out in our tiny needle-like crafts onto the vast Pacific Ocean to explore the far edges of the islands – all there is between Canada and Japan. We are ready to go, each of us with our own thoughts and questions, yet totally at one in our desire to see where the sea meets the sky, to face open water with no land in sight.

The whitecaps are creeping into the bay now. The sea sparkles in sun. Fine weather can mean windy afternoons here. Maybe we will make the crossing to the ‘End of the Road’ archipelago or maybe we will have to stop on a random tiny beach part way and wait out the wind, paddling through dusk to our base camp. Making the Broken Group this afternoon or not is all the same. In fact, that is the adventure. It’s why we are here.

I have been guiding people on waterways for twenty-four years now, and I am constantly reminded that what we are all seeking in the wild, as we travel under our own power, is the challenge of the physical and the unknown, the joyful rendering up of our desire to control our environment, and the discovery of the strength and limits of our bodies. We greet the weather with laughter as we connect with our common sense, collective nature and knowledge in order to stay safe.

At the Stopper Islands, where we would start the open crossing to Hand Island (the closest of the Broken Group), we are stopped in our tracks by a heavy head wind and breaking waves. We tuck into a tiny cove with white sand, have lunch and explore the forest behind the beach. Culturally modified cedar trees stand tall in the green depths. The group is captivated by the fact that the local First Nations women harvested the inner bark of these towering giants to make waterproof hats and capes without harming the trees.

The marvels of the rainforest and the creatures of the inter-tidal zone keep us absorbed for hours. It is guaranteed that the stiff sea breeze will go down at some point; that’s just how it is. The question of when we may be able to paddle across to the Broken Group is still just blowing in the wind. And, as one of the women notes, “Who cares? How often does this Toronto stockbroker get to play Gilligan’s Island?”

This is sisterhood. This is real. This is wild.

by Jennifer Brammer

Yesterday I met Jane Goodall. She has a graceful, gentle presence, and deep, deep eyes. She has seen over 50 years of life in the wild, studying chimpanzees to an extent never before or since attempted, and her insights about the relationship between humans, animals and our environment is profound, her call to action is resounding.

I’m reading her latest book, Harvest for Hope – A Guide to Mindful Eating. In it she details the vicious cycle of pesticide-ridden and genetically engineered crops which feed the unknowing majority of consumers. She also condemns the legacy of modern factory farming techniques: mountains of waste, nutritionally depleted soil, polluted water, displaced organic farmers, and severely compromised food.

I’ve worked on food security issues as an activist with Oxfam for over two decades. I’ve met women from South Africa who lamented that they couldn’t afford to buy the food that they grow for export, women from Cuba who are organizing community garden networks and teaching organic growing methods, and small scale farmers from Saskatchewan who have stood up to the corporate agribusiness giants to reclaim their land and right to grow food with isn’t genetically modified.

In the past few years I’ve made big changes to my diet – eating mostly organic, local and seasonal. Dr Jane is a vegetarian and writes about her choice to not eat animals. I do eat meat, but have moved to almost entirely grass fed local beef, organic free range chicken and eggs and wild fish.

I have a home on the edge of a forest, on the ocean. There are cherry trees all around, apple trees, berry bushes throughout the nearby woods, plenty of fish and animals. I have a large garden and greenhouse. There are folk in the village who raise chickens and a small local farmers market each Saturday.

My goal by the end of 2012 is to move to a 99% local diet, where all the food I consume is grown organically in my garden or traded with neighbors, moose and rabbit meat we hunt or fish from the local rivers. Fruit will be from collecting berries or harvesting the apple and cherry trees.

There are a couple of complications. I am addicted to chocolate. I admit it. Dark chocolate is my weakness – the really good stuff. And I eat alot of bananas and tropical fruit. So, over the next year, my challenge will be to find other treats, so I don’t feel like I am denying myself.

Why would I want to do this? It’s not really about saving the environment, though a local diet will reduce the waste and energy used in food production that is contributing to climate change and pollution of the land. And it’s not so much about being healthier, although organic, fresh food will no doubt be better for my body. It is about relationship.

I want to feel more connected in the cycles of the ecosystem I am a part of. I want to know how to find the best berry patches, when they are in season. I want to know when the salmon spawn and how to salt dry fish to store in winter and grow plump juicy tomatoes from a seed. I want to know how to make teas and tinctures from the wild herbs and plants that grow near my home. I want to get my hands dirty and know how to grow life. I want to look a moose in the eye before it is sacrificed to feed my family. I want to know where everything on my plate came from – run out to the garden to pluck a few lettuce leafs for my dinner salad.

Grains are an issue – I won’t have any wheat farmers in my area, but I have been trying to get off gluten anyway. (Damn it, but I love croissants and the smell of fresh baked bread, mmmmm…)  The ancestral diet advocates for removing all grains from our diets, because grain wasn’t part of the way humans naturally ate for millions of years and so our biology isn’t optimally oriented to digesting grains.

I am setting out to make one change at a time, take one step that leads to the next and not trying to change my life or the world overnight. Perhaps instead of that chocolate bar everyday, it will be one each week and then just on special occasions. And it will always be a choice I renew every day to live my life in the way that feels best for me – I am not going to make any radical rules for myself.

“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are ” said the French epicurist Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in the 1700s. I think this question is as relevant today as it was then and I want to answer it with the knowing that I eat wildly and naturally, as I live, as I am.

by Katie Hebert

In 2006, i stumbled upon a group called wild women expeditions.
i was up googling late at night,
trying to inspire myself into making a change.
when i read about all the incredible trips
and saw pictures of all these incredible women
something inside me screamed:
you love women.
you love nature.
you must go.
this is meant for you.
just do it.
i thought about it.
and the voice in my head became louder than the voice in my heart.
i thought:
yes, i love women.
oh yes, i love nature …
but i’m not a wild woman.
not even in the slightest way…
i can’t do this.
i can not do this.
how could i even think i could do this?
fear overcame me,
i bookmarked the website and went to sleep.
over the next two years,
when i would find myself dreaming of the life i could be leading,
a life filled with adventure,
growing …
i would find myself back at the wild women website.
i would look at all the happy,
beautiful, wild women
wishing i had the courage to leave my home,
to venture out into the world
to connect with people,
to just … be.
late one night in january of 2008,
feeling my true strong, wild, bold self peeking out momentarily,
i contacted beth.
i felt brave,
i felt excited,
i inquired about a temagami canoe trip.
she wrote back and was deeply kind and open and friendly
just as i had imagined all those women would be.
i felt more confident in my everlasting pull towards this group,
i felt like this was indeed the first step to the new me,
the old me,
the true me …
i wrote back telling her i would register within the next couple of days

and i was going to,
i truly was.
two days later, my uncle passed away.
and then my grandmother.
all of my life fears came back
and i pushed my wild dreams deep down inside
and continued to hide in my little apartment,
always working on
but rarely venturing outside myself.
and now here i sit,
5 years after i first found this group.
i’ve done and am continuing to do a lot of inner work
but this is going to be my first outer leap forward.
this is 1400 miles outside of my comfort zone.
but i’m going to do it.
i’ve booked it.
this a gift to my self,
my wild, wild beautiful self.
a thank you for being patient and waiting for me to be ready
ready for this challenge,
for this adventure,
for my life …
and so i end this beginning with a poem,
a song,
a prayer
to my current self …
katie elizabeth hebert,
this is what i wish for you on your journey:
take this first adventure and grow …
liberate yourself,
challenge yourself,
redefine yourself,
breathe deeply,
allow yourself to have fun,
allow yourself to connect with the beings around you,
stay in the moment.
step into it deeply,
take it all in
let it fill you to the brim with aliveness
bask in it.
please speak …
make pictures.
make glorious, glorious pictures.
breathe more deeply.
create magical moments for yourself,
absorb the miraculous moments that go on around you,
feel the beauty in all that surrounds you
reflect upon it.
nurture it.
let go.
let go.
let go.
prove to yourself that you are capable of anything,
just do it.
believe in yourself.
move forward.
leap forward.
be forward.
just … be …
allow yourself to be.
be strong,
be open,
be present,
be calm,
be confident,
be happy,
be bold,
be fearless,
be your whole divine self …
be wild.

~ katie

by Cyndi Briggs

I grew up in southwest Virginia, in a small city buried deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There I lived about a 20-minute drive from the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway, both. As a girl and an adolescent I took them for granted; as a more aware (and perhaps cynical) adult, I marvel at the rare government foresight it took to establish these two great, protected institutions. Both have provided me more challenge and comfort than years of therapy ever could.

One of my earliest childhood memories involved sliding butt first down a mountainside near McAfee’s Knob on the AT. My grandfather and I had decided to forgo the switchbacks down the mountain and simply slid, straight down, bits of shale and earth scattering before us. My grandfather was from flat, central Illinois, and reveled in the undulating mountains every time he came to visit us. He was a wild man himself, more comfortable out in the fields than indoors, and always provoked me to take risks. And so I found myself racing downhill at age four, my mother shrieking in fear, my heart racing, my adrenaline pumping.

I’ve been a mountain junkie ever since.

When I was 19 I started dating a guy named Adam who was a forestry major at Virginia Tech. He helped me pick out the best hiking boots for my feet, taught me about down vs. synthetic lining in sleeping bags, and introduced me to the rare art of pitching a tent in the middle of the night without a flashlight. In the process, I found the depths of my endurance, discovered how tough I can be when there’s three more miles left to cover before darkness falls, and how at home I feel when I’m out in the wild, away from all markers of civilization. He and I hiked every spur and stretch of the AT in southwest Virginia, and spent hours up on the Parkway, dreaming beneath the stars about how great life would be once we graduated from college and our future together could really begin.

When I was 22 he was killed in a motorcycle accident and I felt my future disappeared with him. We scattered his ashes near his childhood home, in a creek on Nature Conservancy land, buried deep at the bottom of a dark and secret hollow. As we hiked out of the valley at the end of the memorial, we stood together between the setting sun and the rising full moon and breathed in the memory and the magic of the man we’d known.

In the months that followed, in the depths of my grief, I hiked almost daily, taking my Lab Ariel with me up into the mountains and disappearing for hours. There I felt I could reconnect with Adam and with myself. I could “hear” him in the trees, and feel close to him again. I would lose myself in the “green tunnel” of the AT, and return home with a small measure of grief spent and a bit more peace in its place.

Now I’m nearing age 40, and the mountains are still my home; my church, my sanctuary, my respite, my inspiration. For four years I lived away from the mountains in flat Minnesota, and it was like a small death every single day. I am now back in my mountain home, and it is like returning to family. This is where I find myself, again and again, each time coming home anew.

by Lori Schneider

To me, being a Wild Woman means climbing beyond the boundaries we as women set for ourselves in our own lives. It is about beingwild and bold enough to empower ourselves to move beyond ourlabels and limitations and live our dreams. Ordinary women can achieve extraordinary things!

The day I woke up with a body half numb  from Multiple Sclerosis was the day my life changed forever. I went from a whole person to a broken one, with the placement of that one little foot on the floor. Nothing made sense in my life anymore and I became a person who had lost a sense of self. After wading through the tears and fears of what my life was to become, I stepped away a wounded person, with injuries so deep I felt they would never heal. I was bleeding from an open wound with no bandage to wrap around me. My heart was heavy, and my brain was aching from thoughts of what would become of me.

I panicked and ran away from my life, fearing that I needed to gain independence while I still had my strength. I left my home, my husband, my job, my friends, and the sense of purpose that I once had. I slipped into the void of that deep emotional crevasse, unhooked from my safety lines that would have once pulled me back into reality.As part of my need to escape my MS, I began to run at a pace that even I could not keep up with. I was determined to prove to myself that I was still in control of my physical body. Why mountain climbing? It seemed my need to escape was based on a need to be isolated as well. In the mountains, I could hide. There, I insulated myself withothers who were strong and wild, possessing a no excuse attitude. Climbing gave me time to think, to process all the carnage left after my runaway.

It wasn’t until I stood on top of the highest point in South America, Mt. Aconcagua, that I reclaimed my life. It was astruggle to get to the summit set on a pile of scree and ice. My body was frozen, my vision was blurred due to a burst blood vessel in my eye, and exhaustion had set in. As I stood by the cross that marked the summit, I made a decision that would impact my “new” life, forever. I decided to let go of the shame I was feeling, from carrying that label of MS. I decided that if I was strong enough to stand on top of a 22,840 ft. mountain, I was strong enough to face my life again,without fear for the future. It was time to live again, wildly and with passion. What I had feared with MS was losing myself. It wasn’t until I left my life, that I really found ME.

That first adventure shaped me into the wild woman I am today. I spent the next years climbing the highest mountain on each continent, known as the ‘Seven Summits’. In 2009 I summited Everest, the world’s highest peak, becoming the first person with MS to do so. Wild…yes! I wouldn’t live life any otherway!

by Deanna (Barnhardt) Kawatski

I am turning sixty next month and have lived long enough to realize that in order to touch our own wild nature we must venture into the land of uncertainty. This can happen in the outer world by heeding the call of the road, or the call of the wild. I’ve done both in my life. It can also occur deep within the inner landscape, and for me this has been through my creative work as a writer, my private practice of meditation, and paying attention to the messages in my dreams.

My own fear, which can be seen as wild nature too, has sometimes dangled a key with which to unlock doors into new and astonishing worlds. With that in mind I offer the beginning to my memoir, Wilderness Mother:

“Let’s get out of this godforsaken place,” one ranger hollered to the other. The two men bounded off down the slope, leaving me more alone than I had ever been.

It was June 1978, and I was the first female lookout attendant ever to be stationed at the Bob Quinn Lake fire tower. Ironically, I had chosen this solitary station in a remote corner of northwestern British Columbia at a time in my life when I craved nothing more than a mate, a home, and children of my own. I was twenty-seven.

I closed the collar of my down vest against a fresh blast of wind and surveyed my surroundings. The flimsy shack that was to be home for the next three months sat on a mossy rock at 4,319 feet, just above the tangle of alpine fir at the treeline. A ridge tailed away from me for six miles, gradually climbing upward, its folds embracing snow patches like fallen clouds. All around me was wilderness. The jagged snow-mottled mountains of the Coast Range stood on three sides, while far below the forests were strewn with lakes, like pieces of a puzzle. The Iskut River flowed the full length of the one hundred-mile stretch of valley and then squeezed from sight through a narrow canyon, plunging onward toward its meeting with the mighty Stikine River. To the north stretched the Iskut burn, a gray one-hundred-thousand-acre monster. The unpaved Stewart-Cassiar Highway threaded its way through the silver snags of dead trees that had stood for twenty years. To the west the mountains were still held in the clutches of the last Ice Age. Vast glaciers, rivers of ice, glinted and flowed ninety miles to the Alaska panhandle. Beyond that lay the Pacific Ocean.

This was a land that had never been dominated by the human species. Even the natives chose areas further north or south where the rivers ran red with salmon. For thousands of years these boreal forests had been home to moose, wolves, black bears, grizzlies, lynx, and more. Ravens reeled above the timbered valley bottoms, and wild goats wandered on heights too steep to hold snow.”

Thus begins what turned into a fourteen year adventure…


by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Last weekend a group of women gathered in British Columbia for the Wild and Wise Women’s Retreat. Although I could not attend, one of the organizers, Christa Thompson, asked me to write a blessing for the gathering. Below is the piece that came as I sat in meditation- my invocation to the Divine Feminine for the circle of women at the retreat, and for the world. In the shamanic tradition when we speak of the “children” of Grandmother Earth we are speaking of all her children- small two-leggeds, grown men and women, the water, earth, air, four-leggeds, winged-ones, plants. . . . nothing and no one left out.

As I reread and tweaked the blessing I wrote (never give a writer a chance to rewrite or edit 🙂 I realize that it mirrors my deep faith in the power of cultivating deep intimacy with our heart-response to things like the destructive polluting of the planet. There is, of course, a need for problem-solving research and decision making, but substantial shifts in perspective and sustainable change come from allowing the wild wisdom within to be ignited by deep intimacy with our hearts, each other and the world.

I call on the Spirit of the Divine Feminine to bless us.

May we know the wildness and the wisdom that is our birthright.

There is a wildness in us

that is not content with small changes, half-measures, muted joys or polite tears.

There is a wildness in us that wants to dance with Dzunuk’wa,

Wild Woman of the Woods in the Pacific Northwest,

bathed in the silver light and blue shadows of the full moon,

gathering energy from our mother the earth to do what needs to be done.

There is a wildness in us that wants to ride like Durga and Kali,

into the fray, unafraid and fierce,

destroying the illusions of control that allow human beings

to defile the very wilderness that sustains their hearts and souls

and balances their minds and bodies.

There is wildness in us fuelled by a sorrow too big to bear in silence

that wants to wail at the destruction of the earth and the harming of her children,

that wants to rend our clothing and stand on the steps of the legislature

-thousands of women standing shoulder to shoulder, garments torn, wailing-

until the law makers act to protect the body and heart of every mother and child.

There is a place in us where wisdom and wildness dance together,

the place where Kwan-Yin speaks the true name of the sacred

that lives in every tree and flower,

every heart and mind, every stone and bit of blood and bone.

The place where we know what we know and will not pretend otherwise.

The place where Lilith says, “Hell No!”

when she is told she must obey unjust laws,

must be quiet, must subjugate her being to another’s priorities,

to “practical considerations,” or “economic realities.”

She is the Maiden warrior who stands for the heart that dares to dream in colour for herself and her sisters and brothers.

She is the protective Mother who stands between her children- all the children of Grandmother Earth- and the destructive power of the dominator culture.

She is the fierce Crone, the one who cannot be seduced or intimidated into being silent, the one who speaks the truth and calls on the hearts of all men and women to remember what they know, what they love, what they are.

Sacred Feminine Fire, ignite our wildness and our wisdom, so we may live all of who and what we are, loyal to the truth, unafraid of the fire, willing and able to dream a new world.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2011