This post was written in partnership with REI and the Force of Nature campaign.
A lot of you reading this know me well.
You might have read my thoughts on this blog. You might have seen a few of my YouTube videos. You might have seen me goofing off on my Instagram story with my roommate. You might be completely new here. Regardless of how you got here or how well you know me, this is where I write what I know to be true. Everything I write, the things I have learned, and my willingness to share– these things are not inherently in me. They have developed over time. They have developed over time because I was able to look ahead to women who have gone before me– who courageously shared their stories, or who blazed new trails, who took big risks and who were willing to fail, or to be wrong.
So I wanted to write an ode to the women who have showed me what a force of nature is, what that means, what it looks like. These are the women who made me feel a force of nature myself. The women who inspired me, who showed me courage, who taught me what it really means to try. The women who took chances on me though they didn’t have to. Who gave me their time, their patience. Who listened. Who stayed on my team. Who showed me how deeply rooted beauty is within strength and humility.
They came from every corner, and they showed up consistently for my whole life.
My mother is where I learned confidence and tact. She taught me how to raise my hand, and that I can raise it as often as I want to. She showed me how to advocate for myself– how to show and tell people that I was next up, that I was valuable and that I didn’t have to prove it to anyone. I learned grace from my grandmother, who puts others before herself not rarely, but every day. And though I didn’t know her, I learned risk from stories of my great-grandmother, who arrived on Ellis Island with no family at age 19 to become a nurse.
I learned from women I have never met in person. Women of history and women of today. Women who started movements and who drive them, with or without credit. Women who have suffered great loss unjustly, and walk with grace and vulnerability. Women who face marginalization in a way I never could, and still persevere in the face of high risk. Women who continue to fight the injustices they live through every single day. And I want to be clear: I don’t understand their experiences, because it is simply not possible for me to live them. My life is easier many ways. Resources, race, circumstance. And words do not equal action, but they matter.
I learned grit from the women I met on the road and on the trail. The woman who runs her own beef farm in New Zealand, 65 years old, hauling ass on an ATV down a dirt road cussing like a sailor. The women who were told they couldn’t, and did anyway.
I learned what was really important from the teenagers on trips with me. I talked them through their first time peeing in the woods, and I laughed with surprise when they told me it meant a lot to them– really. I learned about vulnerability when a high school freshman told me about her eating disorder, when she confided in me, when she let me share in her firsts. I learned from her when she cried angrily on the side of the mountain she believed she could not climb. But she would get there. She did. And she’d get to many more and I’d watch along proudly from my computer screen, thousands of miles away.
I learned compassion from women on the internet. The bloggers I silently stalked for years before starting my own website. The women who fearlessly shared their experiences of being differently abled, homeless, fat, queer, scared, anything at all that was real for them. Women who have experienced trauma. The women who were honest because they knew it could help someone else.
I learned about listening from nature herself. She thunders loud and rains down hard, and still surprises you with hot days and cold nights. Her greatness will tower over you like what you know is God. Like love. She’s a heartbreaker and a healer and her genius is found in seasons. She’ll blow down your barriers. She’s wind in the trees, she’s your face in the snow, and you’re in the eye of her hurricane.
And those who may not identify as female, or who may be questioning, I see you.
I want them to be seen. I want them to be heard like the way I’ve heard them.
Watching them fail and get up gave me permission to try. Watching them laugh at themselves. Watching them risk and lean into discomfort. Watching them give themselves to others– their creativity, their passion– more than they had to. I have watched them speak on what they know is right. I have watched them be too loud, too outspoken, too crass, too much. I have watched them in the face of the criticism. And I have watched them fight and love fiercely throughout.
If I didn’t have these women to look up to, I don’t know what I would be. And I don’t compare myself to them, because that wouldn’t be fair. But I didn’t learn these things on accident. They inspire me to be a force of nature because that’s just what they are, and what they showed me to be.
These are the forces of nature that I know. They are everywhere. And they are worth far more than infrequent praise.
Thank you to REI for making a comprehensive effort to change the imagery of people in the outdoors, for committing $1 million to community organizations that create opportunities for women and girls in the outdoors, and for sponsoring this post.
Feature photo by Raja Iliya.
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