Things I learned this year from the Wilderness (Genevieve)

Owning stuff like a fancy car or jewelry doesn’t make me happy. Unless it’s 2-6 canoes. Owning 2-6 canoes makes me happy.

The winds on the lakes in Maine are jerks. The black flies in Maine are also jerks. But then the jerk winds keep away the jerk black flies. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

March always ends. And you will make it through. And then March will come again. But at least you’ll remember that it has ended before.

That if you’re patient, you’ll continue NOT getting what you want, but you will get what you need. And probably catch a killer sunset or sunrise in the process.

 This is tiny me in a big canyon having a starring contest with a baby rattlesnake unaware as Casey Crosbie snaps a photo. I'm not suggesting you do this. (Have a starring contest with a baby rattler, that is. Snap all the photos you want.)

This is tiny me in a big canyon having a starring contest with a baby rattlesnake unaware as Casey Crosbie snaps a photo. I'm not suggesting you do this. (Have a starring contest with a baby rattler, that is. Snap all the photos you want.)

I learned that although it’s probably a terrible idea to stare into a baby rattlesnake’s eyes for the better part of 45 minutes in a canyon 2 days away from help, if you do find yourself doing this thing you probably shouldn’t do, you’ll come out on the other side knowing that you’re more powerful than you give yourself credit for. And that this power is part of something bigger that you can’t fully describe.

Maps provide the stuff of dreams.

Aram Mitchell, one year later, is still the most unrelentingly delightful, kind, and thoughtful person to share a work life with that ever existed. IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. He’s got to be some kind of humanoid delightful robot sent from the future.

The world has hurt many of us in very deep ways. This year it felt particularly hard to be a woman (among many other identities) as we collectively sweat out the trauma many of us have experienced. But being in the wilderness with strangers this year has taught me that trusting people doesn’t make you some kind of nit-wit; it means you’re brave.

I learned that the place nestled in between anxiety and heartbreak is the tender place. And being in the tender place is also brave.

I’m not in control.

I’m not in control. And that’s okay. But I’m still going to pack my waterproof matches and a compass.

Carrying in the Boundary Waters (Aram)


Along with the lake miles we paddled in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area last week, my fellow wilderness wanderers and I also had about ten portages. All together our portages totaled several miles of carrying our gear and canoes over rugged terrain to bypass the shallow rapids that connected one lake to the next. What I found beautiful about our carries was the collaboration that compelled us. We got the job done on every one, but never in a rush, never singularly, and never by moving our outfit from lake to lake in a way that compromised our capacity. By sharing the load, and when necessary taking multiple trips, we managed to sustain our energy so that we could finish our route and still keep our eyes open long enough at the end of the day to watch the moon rise over the water.

Earlier this year, in late winter, I scribbled a note in my journal, “Today I start my day recalling that earth weighs what earth weighs and that I do too. Today I’m going to carry my weight, not the weight of the world.” 

The most profound insights are like a good piece of outdoor gear. They are well worn, heavily used and sturdy. This is one such insight: There is a great measure of strength to be found in the embrace of our limitations.

To those of you compelled by the work of bettering the world, I hope you find the strength from day to day to carry your weight, and what’s more I hope that you remember with each step that the entirety of the load is not yours to bear. Let’s get the job done. And then let’s spend some time at the end of each day reflecting on how we can sustain our strength to do our work again tomorrow.


Wild River Resistance (Genevieve)

This past weekend, Aram and I led a trip in the Wild River Wilderness area of the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire. The events surrounding Charlottesville happened while we were in the woods, away from screens. And I’ve returned from one Wilderness to find myself in another metaphorical Wilderness...Wondering if we as a society are bending away from justice in that long arc of the moral universe MLK, Jr. and abolitionist ministers spoke about.

When I’m in the real Wilderness (with trees and rivers or the vast landscapes of deserts), my heart quiets and my mind stops. I have space to listen. The proverbial Wilderness of the world doesn’t disappear, but somehow becomes more manageable. And in the approximate words of Audre Lorde, self-care becomes an act of political resistance.

As I type this, my dog is sleeping quite soundly next to my feet; making little high-pitched bark noises as she dreams. She’s tired and content from running around and swimming in the Wild River. And the recent vitriol of the actions of hate groups in Charlottesville feels strong. But so do I.

For those of you on the front lines navigating hatred, caring for our vulnerable populations, and helping move us towards justice in the arc of the moral universe, Renewal in the Wilderness stands with you.

 Aram and Opal the Canoe Dog.

Aram and Opal the Canoe Dog.