I’ve spent a lot of time on the trail, we lost track somewhere around 800 miles recorded in the journal, and that tally didn’t count the little day hikes here and there. In all those miles there is one thing I have rarely encountered, and it always discourages me. Nature has many colors and I desperately want to see more women of diverse skin tones in the wilderness. We need more goddesses of all shades out there learning the power of seeing the stars through breaks in tall trees and beside granite cliffs. But they, the many tones of female, have been harder to find on the trails than foxes.
Then a chance encounter on a stormy pass in Yosemite brought me into proximity with a pack of women having much darker skin than mine. I would have hugged them but for the fact (1) I was terrified of the inky black skies moving in on us from the Grand (Ominous) Canyon of the Tuolumne and (2) their scowls of unknown origin. I marched past, noting in my distracted brain that I was pleased and puzzled to see them. I kicked myself once I’d descended below tree-line into Ten Lakes Basin that I hadn’t stopped ever so briefly to at least give them encouragement. Trail regrets are the worst, they haunt for miles and miles.
The storm that drove me swiftly past my band of lovely, but stressed women, eventually caught up to us. Driven into our tent by slush balls and cold rain, we fell asleep between thunderclaps. As the rain slowed a sound emerged from nearby at our lake—the sound of laughter, of a female kind. We went to the lake to fish, well he did. I took a camera to catch images instead of trout. The lake was glassy smooth with steam rising in gentle wisps as the sky cleared. My rate of landing the big one was vastly greater.
That’s when the source of the laughter appeared next to the lake in a line of joyously smiling black and beautiful faces. Our paths didn’t cross. They went and sat in sunshine beside the lake. I was fondling granite boulders and eavesdropping on the ladies. In hindsight I may have seemed a little like a creeper. I heard someone sounding an awful lot like a guide praising them for managing their stress and making it to remote lake. She asked them what had been the biggest thing to overcome. I presumed the stress was the storm or exertion of the hill, but what I heard was that the thing that most disturbed them was being out where strangers could see them in the state of sweaty disarray. I dig the days I get to be unkempt and a tad feral. This clearly was not their thing, and it was good for me to hear that. If we are to build a sisterhood of nature lovers, we need to understand where each finds their limits and gently push beyond. I admired them all the more after that but still didn’t approach. As we settled in later that evening we could hear their voices telling campfire stories and enjoying their time. It felt good.
They disappeared the next day as we were fishing at another lake. Once again I was sorry I hadn’t said something to them. I learned from the Asian American female ranger that appeared out of nowhere to check my permit that they were an annual Women of Color Backcountry Adventure group. She was as thrilled with them as I was and pleased to hear that I had enjoyed having them as neighbors. She knows the usual crowd that occupies Ten Lakes. This was a special bunch.
My last, best chance appeared a mile from the end of the trail. They were spread out beside the trail on granite slickrock having one last break and a gulp of some of nature’s best glacial sculptures. There was a noticeable change from the first time I passed them. They were relaxed, beaming, and solidified in experience. Stephen told them he was pleased to see it looked like they were all there. They laughed. Someone suggested it had been touch and go for a couple of them. I informed them, emphatically, that THEY ROCKED. Their beautiful dirty selves were some of the happiest faces I’ve seen beside a trail.
I hope like heck they went home to husbands, sons, daughters, and friends preaching the gospel of time beside calm lakes and under stormy skies. Even better, I hope they drag a buddy our two out on a trail soon. You won’t fight for what you haven’t experienced, and we need all colors engaged to save these places.