The Wild

The Wild

Pausing to take stock of just what Women’s History Month means to me this year. I am struck by the relatively recent emergence of women into “The Wild.”

As late as 2011, author Susan Joy Paul was told repeatedly by publishers that her idea for a women’s outdoor guide book would fail, that she just didn’t have a large enough target audience. WRONG.

The very next year, Cheryl Strayed released her #1 New York Times Bestselling memoir, Wild. Some say the popularity of her book and the 2014 movie adaptation it inspired (starring Reece Witherspoon) had a profound impact on modern women.

Yes, this was a long time coming. But the real's still fresh.

Women experienced sweeping changes in how we perceive ourselves, and in how we are perceived, at the turn of our last century.

Victorian “angels in the house” gave way to Gibson Girls, sporting button-down blouses and bloomers. “The New Woman” as she was called, became increasingly more active and engaged in the world around her.

Magazines, widely popular at the time, were filled with these illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson. He fashioned women in new dress, doing things people weren’t accustomed to seeing women do. Poised atop mountains and astride bicycles, a new female athleticism had made its way into mass distribution.

Next came the iconic “Flapper.” Not just in magazines this time, but also on movie screens popping up nationwide. She epitomized the jazzy spirit of America’s Roaring Twenties. Truly a revolutionary, short-skirted and short-haired, she brashly disregarded outdated propriety. Offensive to many, her popularity still managed to soar. A new archetype for the modern girl was born.

Strong, capable, independent…this is how we began to see ourselves.

In the decades to follow, we pushed hard and really expanded our reach. We helped in war, joined the Olympic Games, obtained the right to vote. New role models spurred a whole generation, and then another, to enjoy physical pursuits and to relish challenge.

Emma “Grandma” Gatewood was part of this breed of 20th Century undaunted women. In 1955, having already achieved much (raised 11 children, endured hard labor, overcome abuse), she wasn’t done yet. At the age of 67, Emma had the tenacity to set out alone on a 2,000 mile hike from Georgia to Maine, upon the Appalachian Trail (AT). No map, tent or sleeping bag. Carrying only a homemade knapsack, and wearing Keds, Emma completed her journey 146 days later.

When asked why, she replied only, “Because I wanted to.”

Today, we do hard things, because we want to.

I set off on a cold rainy day this past month, to join one of my own special heroes, Julie “Mountain Goat” George, as she began her first solo AT thru-hike. There were 8 of us women on trail together, ages ranging from our 30s to 60s. Drenched, despite my rain gear and waterproof boots, toes and fingers starting to numb, I actually felt deeply content. This part wasn’t supposed to be fun. But I loved it…like the days when I was a kid, skipping puddles and schlepping through mud, mom having to drag me in from the rain. I can’t wait to go back.

Thank You, to all those who have gone before us. Thank you.

So much more to tell,
And I hope we will.

For now, please let me share one last thing before you go. From my favorite poem by Edna St Vincent Millay, written in 1912, “Renascence.”

I keep her final stanza printed out and taped in front of me while I work. She urges me on:

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart:
And [she] whose soul is flat— the sky
Will cave in on [her] by and by.

- - -

She Threds is my big stretch, a vision that includes communities making, buying and selling our own products, right here in the USA.

Cozy in my long cotton tank, I’m ready to work. Thankful for the opportunities given me, and excited for the road ahead.

PLEASE tell us in the comments below about women, historic or contemporary, who’ve changed how you see yourself and what you set out to accomplish. We’d love to know!

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1 comment

Love this. Emma Gatewood! My inspiration and profoundly life changing feminine role model is the Ruach HaKodesh found in Gen 1:2 and Proverbs 8. Presently, on a more earthly level, I’m finding Diana Nyad to be pretty inspiring.

Sheryl Stratman

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