When I’m having a particularly frustrating day, I often find clarity by walking outdoors. If I’m feeling adventurous, kayaking around the nooks and crannies of Puget Sound makes me feel alive. When things go stagnant in a relationship, tough conversations tend to flow more easily if we meander along a woodsy hiking trail. To counter anxiety, planting seeds in the garden calms my unproductive inner ramblings. In fact, studies have found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation. (1)
Despite the healing benefits of the great outdoors, it can be daunting to plan and embark upon wild excursions that reach beyond the confines of our own neighborhoods and comfort zones. How easy it is to grow accustomed to amenities like microwave dinners, hair dryers, and city buses. Ruby McConnell, a native Pacific Northwesterner, realized this, and crafted an accessible manual—A Woman’s Guide to the Wild: Your Complete Outdoor Handbook. Split into sections like Where to Go, What to Bring, Getting Your Grub On, and even a chapter entitled Lady Matters, the author breaks down common barriers and teaches readers how manageable exploring nature can be.
To embrace the wild, it’s essential for women to cast aside excuses like “We aren’t strong enough, big enough, or tough enough.” Let’s quiet that unfounded inner critic. It can help to start small and start local. In Seattle especially, it’s easy to explore the abounding urban wilderness and get back to nature without even leaving the city. McConnell recommends Seattle’s Discovery Park as an ideal locale to enjoy outdoor recreation in forty-five minutes or less.
For those ready to go a little further, A Woman’s Guide to the Wild includes practical instructions for how to load your backpack for maximum efficiency and comfort (with packing lists that cater to the type and length of trip you’re taking), navigation basics, first aid tips, and advice for how to set up camp, build a fire, and avoid attracting menacing wildlife. Perhaps not for the faint of heart, the book also tackles more taboo topics like how to pee in the woods, tent sex, and menstruating outside.
Of her own journey to become an outdoorswoman, McConnell writes, “At camp, I was encouraged to investigate the world around me and find my own place in it, and it was there I discovered that, outdoors, I thrived. …There is more to gain from your time outside than you can ever lose in trying. And there is a way to avoid peeing on your shoes, I promise.”
Equally well-suited for those most comfortable in an inner-city arboretum, along with anyone who gets a thrill from multi-day camping treks, A Woman’s Guide to the Wild provides wisdom for outdoor adventurers of all levels. Most of all, it is meant to encourage and support women in exploring their full potential. Logistics aside, nature offers a tranquility that’s impossible to achieve under the florescent lights of a shopping mall or behind the wheel of a car. By empowering women to get dirty, get outside, and go wild, we are making a healthful choice that will affect every other aspect of our busy lives.
For those seeking further inspiration, here are a few words of wisdom from a wide range of remarkable, wild women:
“Feeling leashed to my phone and laptop, with endless tasks to be completed and decisions to be made; I know that an every-other-day dose of the mountains reconnects me to a ‘more real world’ whose perfect simplicity inspires me to breathe deep, take it all in with my senses, and smile at the greater force of the natural world―this is where I get to be fully alive.”
―Courtney Tucker, Executive Director of Taos Ski Valley Chamber of Commerce; skier, snowboarder, yoga teacher, river runner, mountain biker, seeker of quiet moments in Taos, New Mexico
“Being in wild places has a way of reconnecting my spirit to a sense of clarity and gratitude, and I’m always reminded of the depth of healing contained in nature.”
―Stephanie Sutten, Herbalist, Educator, and former Chef at Alaska Wildland Adventures; gardener, hiker, forager of wild edibles
“I love embarking on a hike, run, or swim to wake myself up, literally and figuratively, to breathe that fresh, mountain air, and be excited and unnerved by the great blue depths of an alpine lake. I feel most alive, grateful, and content when I am surrounded by nature.”
―Zoey Burrows, Renewable Resources professional and California native, currently at home in Colorado’s Front Range; hiked 420 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, with her sister, and plans to complete the trail over the coming decades
“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”
―Terry Tempest Williams, conservationist, author, and activist who has consistently shown how environmental issues are social issues that ultimately become matters of justice
“Just being outside and active, in the sunshine, is one of the easiest and most important ways for me stay happy and positive.”
―Louisa Richard, Registered Nurse based in rural northern California; hiker, kayaker, skier, world traveler
“I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it.”
―Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, a memoir that chronicled her solo 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail
(1) Sorgen, Carol. “Do You Need a Nature Prescription?” WebMD. 19 June 2013.