There are times when I want walk into the forest alone. Walk where there are no paths. No concrete, or gravel, or dirt trails worn thin by hiking boots. I want ferns by my feet. When I pause, and hold my breath, and listen closely, I want to hear branches clipping together, and distant, wind-woven birds — chickadees, robins, osprey. Then I’ll sit by the creek, my ankles pressed into the softened earth. Streaks of rust scatter from the mud to the water. Heavy; all the branches and sky above me. It’s all heavy.
I want to be alone and just sit there and write. Stare at the water. But I’m a girl. A woman (that sounds weird. But I’m 22 years old, so…?). Whatever — I’m female. And my parents raised me to be cautious. A journey into the forest alone would be dangerous — not because of bears, or losing my way, or injuring myself (I’ve been trained to handle all of those situations), but because of people. If some creepy person was hiding out in the woods and attacked me, there would be no one there to help. This is my greatest fear of traveling alone.
I could easily drive out to the Cascades and wander. Couldn’t I then be like Thoreau, or Muir, and absorb the teachings of wilderness solitude? But instead I have to coordinate plans with friends or hiking groups. This is fine but admittedly limiting. Sometimes I don’t want the burden of conversation. Or I want to sit back and stare at the sky, and marvel at its immensity without looking weird, or slowing the group. I want to forage for red huckleberries, collect them in a maple leaf, and practice making a fire with flint. I want to be alone.
Some women go for it. Like Cheryl Strayed in “Wild”. There are lots of solo-hiking and solo-backpacking women out there. Some are well prepared and some aren’t, but they’re all willing to become vulnerable. What bothers me is that this is even a concern, and that it can’t be prepared for. Sure, you can learn self-defense. But are you ever really prepared for a guy with a knife to pop out from behind a Douglas-fir and come at you?
And why is this even an issue? It’s just not fair. Apparently it wasn’t always like that. The world has become more dangerous as the population grows and as people grow restless. I don’t really hear about wilderness attacks all that often, but the threat is out there, and it shouldn’t be, and it makes me angry. The mountains are calling, and I want to go, but I can’t, because I’m a woman and I wouldn’t feel safe.