Life, the Universe and Gender Identity

I have noticed a serious increase in cranky posts on FB about gender roles and women in particular.  It’s currently a hot topic and as it’s discussed it seems to get hotter and more volatile.  What is right?  What does it look like to have true equality?  I don’t think laws leaning in any direction will ever accomplish what people desire.   If people feel respected and cared for, the anger will diminish, but, what does that look like?  I feel that I have experienced it while working for the government, but it might look and feel differently in actuality than in thought.

From the burning of the bras (Really ladies?  No support is NOT comfy!) to the advent of the extra padded push-up kind, we women seem to put a lot of passion and argument in what it means to be female.   Our strong beliefs leading the way to anarchy or revolution-depending on which side of the issue you are on.  What is the true all American girl?  Is she more like Barbie or more like G.I. Jane?  How should she be treated?  I think I might have an inkling.

When I was on the trail crew for the Forest Service back in the 90s we came across some gender work differences.  Generally we would spike camp (tents) back in the woods somewhere for 10 days and work from camp.  Definitely a rustic experience and with 4 person crews the government required that if there was one girl on a crew there had to be

station crew pic 001

Us-We’re a spiffy looking bunch for sure!

another.

Sometimes we would work with other crews on big projects and sometimes we were on our own.  For one particular work site we had the privilege of staying at Weitas Guard Station in Idaho.  Built just after 1900 it was rustic, but compared to camping it was bliss!

On this particular 10 days we would not only be working on the trail that lead out of the station but we also would be repairing a bridge.  As a friend of mine would say; “fun times and the apocalypse!”  We arrived, we cleaned, and set up our areas and then we got to work.

When it was time to repair the bridge there came some discussion on who would do what.  The problem being that this bridge didn’t cross over an adorable burbling brook-it crossed a river that was fast and deep.  They needed to have people in the water supporting the bridge while they did the fixing.  The boss and the boss’s boss, who were there to lend a hand on the project, were concerned about my female compatriot and me.

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Me on the very top of a tree over a 100 foot tall when it was alive-we had to cut through the trunk close to the base which lay across the trail and was thicker than any of us were tall.

For all our work alongside our male counterparts and a half summer of muscle building under our belts…our bodies differed from the guys.  I’m not even talking about the differences requiring unique undergarments.  A woman and man of the same size and weight will have internal differences.  We ladies have more of a percentage of fat per muscle ratio (I think that has something to do with the whole child bearing thing…) and the average man will have more muscle and bone for the same size, including more upper body strength.  So men are scientifically denser.  (Stop thinking about their brain-you know what I mean!)

The bosses were concerned that we gals wouldn’t have the ability to stay safe in the rushing current.  It would be easier for the water to cause us to flounder and the required upper body strength and stamina to support the bridge…well we might not have it.  They asked our opinion to which we said we would do whatever was needed and they went off to talk.  When they got back they let us know that since safety rested in each person’s strength and the ability to not be taken down by the water-we would sit this one out.

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The two person cabin we gals shared.

We girls chatted in our little cabin that night about the decision.  We were a bit bummed-we had conquered some crazy things that summer, but we were also a little bit relieved.  What if one of us floundered slightly and that hurt not just us, but our other crew mates?

The next morning the boys went off to conquer the river and the bridge and we sat on the front porch.  What now?  We couldn’t just sit around all day…  We went in thecabin porch 001 station and stood in the kitchen thinking.  Then we opened every cupboard and drawer to see what treasures we could find.  We found cinnamon as well as some other spices, a pie tin, tapioca and some other odds and ends.  We dug through our own supplies and had butter, graham crackers, sugar and apples.  We were in business!

It felt like the kitchen itself came to life with excitement as we started cleaning, washing, crushing, chopping.  We lit the gas stove and set the apples to simmer with cinnamon and sugar.  We melted the butter and mixed it with the squished graham cracker crumbs and then pressed that into the pie plate.  The apples were just beginning to fill the old station with timeless scents when the boys came in for lunch.

Cold, wet and hungry the clumped through the door exclaiming at the top of their lungs that they could smell our efforts at least a half mile down the trail.  One of them who we knew to be a scamp in a man’s body walked straight up to the stove, gleeful look on his face and aimed a finger at the fruity goodness in the pot.

Both of us gals whirled on him with spoons brandished and issued the war cry of our sisters through the ages:

“Don’t you dare!  That’s for dinner!”  Seeing his window of thievery coming to a swift close he dipped, slurped, and ran, ducking two spoons and yelling back over his shoulder that it was perfect.  We looked at each other and laughed then wondered aloud how he could handle the heat of the apples.  Men!

The boys went back to the bridge and we baked our crust, set the apples to cool and got busy with another project.  The boss had found a recipe for trail ice cream and we had made sure to bring what we needed to make it on this trip.

I took on that chore while my compatriot got a simple supper going in the kitchen.  I put the ingredients in a small coffee can and taped it shut, then put that in a large coffee can and surrounded it with ice and rock salt-then taped it shut.  I kicked it back and forth across the porch for half an hour and then checked it-icey creamy goodness!

The boys drug themselves in shortly after and reported the job done and, “please God never again!”  Supper was had and then…dessert.  The weary lackluster countenances flew to life with the speed of a divine miracle.  Coffee was made, cheap shots exchanged, and laughter ruled.  The pie plate was literally licked clean and ice cream put on everything from pie, to coffee to fingers (waste not, want not, right?)

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A swampy area that we fixed drainage for and then raised the trail.

We gals had not helped with the bridge fixing in a hands on way, but I truly feel to the core of my being that we were a huge help!  Should we have been down the trail at the bridge?  Would it have been fine?  Or would someone have gotten hurt?  That, is only for God to know.  But the short of it is that we were a team that cared about each other.  We, all of us, helped each other.  We took each other’s needs and abilities into consideration

bridge 001

The bridge we were building without motorized tools

constantly.

One of the guys was allergic to bees, we girls weren’t.  On the trail when we had to deal with bees we considered our crewmate first.  And here, with a bridge project the guys had considered us.

That summer we accomplished more than I honestly knew was humanly possible.  Some of it just plain grit hard!  For example:  we packed a rock drill into the woods so the explosives folks could blast open a trail, we cut through the trunk of a tree that had fallen across the trail and that trunk was thicker than we were tall, we had built a bridge in a “wilderness area” which simply means that you can’t use tools with a

mud 001

Another trail with a drainage issue.  I don’t believe my boots ever forgave me for that…

motor…  Yup, draft horse and chains and large iron poles were our tools; I was just glad the saw guys had already cut everything with the crosscuts.  We fixed drainage problems and sunk up to almost our knees in mud.  It was a great summer!

What does it look like to be respected and cared for by coworkers?  I think it looks kinda like this.  Folks willing to work as a team-using strengths to the best of their ability and looking out for each other in situations where some aren’t as strong, no matter the reason.

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For any of you camping types who want to make ice cream on your next trip…  Here’s the boss’s recipe!

 

2lb 7oz coffee can (empty)

13 oz coffee can (soon to be filled with creamy goodness)

In the small can put:

1 cup whole milk

1 cup cream

½ cup sugar

Pinch of salt

½ tsp vanilla extract

 

Tape up the lid on that can nice and tight and then put it in the big can and layer ice and rock salt to the top.  Tape on the lid.  Now keep the can rolling for at least 30 minutes.  I just walked and kept booting it gently with my toe.

When it’s done you can top it with M&Ms, nuts or whatever floats your boat.  One time we squished up a banana and put it in with the cream and it was wonderful!

 

The Secret in The Forest

 

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The first thing I noticed was all the water.  Creeks tumbled everywhere and my ears were filled with their exuberance. Some months past, I felt the need to return, had planned the trip and finally…here I was. After 27 years, I was deep in the wilderness that raised me.

My friend and I had left our families safely at home to trek into the heart of the central Idaho backwoods. We were armed with our respective cameras and journals, mini backpacks, and hiking boots. Neither of us knew what we would find, exactly–but both of us were searching, having faith that God had something for us.

Life complicates so easily, like a drumbeat that slowly speeds up until the dancers fall in their effort to keep time. So it was in my existence. Schedules…money…health.  Schedules…money…health.  SCHEDULES! MONEY! HEALTH! What do you do when your life becomes so crazy that it literally makes you sick?  No doctor had figured out why, but for almost two years whenever I lay down I would become dizzy, rest turning into struggle. Consequently my diet was restricted to a total of a few meats and some vegetables along with brown rice. Every pot luck, party and dinner I attended saw me on the fringes—my only participation in savoring the aroma.

What did I do? I screamed at God to make it stop. I begged Him to ease the burdens of my chronic illness and other stresses. I begged Him to rescue me from the clutches of fear. What did I receive in response? An incredibly strong urge to return to my native wilderness. So there I stood in mid-May, surrounded by creeks, a light breeze playing with my hair.IMG_1207

I scanned the beloved hills and drank in the cacophony of rushing water, bird song, and melodic pines. The trees I thought large as a child had become behemoths. Strong and proud, they rustled in the breeze. Berry bushes and plants crowded for attention around every corner and rock. Everything was so incredibly vibrant!  In the palpable peace, every part of me relaxed. No schedule, no appointments, no cell service…perfection!

I wandered around the Forest Service station I used to call home. So many memories generated with the caress of this forest. We crossed the primitive dirt road to the old barn standing beside the pasture. Without thinking, I scaled the fence like I used to and walked up to the water trough. It was only a IMG_1226third full, but there was a butterfly floundering in it. I scooped up the pretty little bug and eased it onto a sunny rock to dry. A wave of déjà vu hit me then, for I recalled performing that very service hundreds of times before. In that moment, I connected to my childhood self: That carefree girl who scampered about the countryside looking for surprises and adventure, who championed pretty insects, yet couldn’t abide spiders. I remember one particularly plump bumble bee as fuzzy as a stuffed toy. While it busied itself on a flower, which bowed under its weight, I carefully petted its back for a second. The bee paid me no mind and though I refrained from pushing my luck further with more physical contact, I was captivated.  I stayed close and watched it with avid interest. The soft buzzes it made, the complete abandon to its task. It’s a soothing creature and since then I have adored bees and, they in turn have never hurt me.

Likewise, I encountered many varieties of wild animals when I lived here and though the happenstances always caused my heart to jump for a moment, the occasions simply added to my collection of beautiful memories. Sometimes a black bear would be startled or a few elk would unexpectedly lift their heads and we would lock eyes. In the nine years I spent in this wilderness before moving at the age of eleven, they had never hurt me either.

One little girl, living in an immense forest. I was beyond insignificant and reveled in that awareness. Everywhere I went and in everything I did—fishing, trail riding, hiking or playing…I felt tiny, but confident. I knew God was looking after me. Fear was much more prevalent in story books than it was in my life back then.

We wandered through the pasture and back across the bridge to the car, my history walking with me.IMG_1787 The heavy tread of my horse Leo as it sounded, muffled in the grass.FullSizeRender (2) The concussion in the air from helicopters which landed and took off out of that same pasture during fire season. The tiny titters that a little bat made when it slept, hanging from the ceiling in my favorite cave.IMG_1238 The late afternoon thunder storms that I watched from the front porch of our cabin, eating my mom’s rhubarb crunch as cool air danced around me and blue streaks lit up the sky.

Everything here nurtured my senses and needs: food, song, beauty. It reminded me of when I set up the nursery for my daughter and made sure everything was geared toward safety, comfort and growth. I was safe here. I was taken care of.

After climbing up to my favorite cave, looking for bats and collecting some quartz rocks for my yard, we retraced our steps and then descended to the river. I sat on a large rock and straightaway saw the most beautiful piece of quartz on a boulder in the current. IMG_1250God’s “yard glitter.” I grinned, imagining God placing that boulder specifically where the water made it sparkle all the more.

I looked around again, amazed at the variety and effervescent health of all the plants. I’d striven for years with my own yard, researching, planning, spending time, money, and energy, yet still failing often to get plants to grow. The only one looking after all of this beauty was God Himself. When I had lived here I thrived as surely as the willows and birds in front of me. It hadn’t come with turmoil, angst or grief. On the contrary – it had simply been.

My thoughts clarified intensely. Why hadn’t I needed to strive when I lived here? I knew I was completely helpless, I simply hadn’t cared. Why hadn’t I worried? Agonized? Feared encountering scary unknowns? It came to me again: I had known I was being taken care of—that God was with me.

My life over the past years had deteriorated into striving, driving on the fuel of fear. Striving to please God, striving to always make right choices, striving to be wise. Research, time, energy but mostly…fear. Fear that doing the wrong thing would have dire consequences, fear that I would displease God, fear that I didn’t know what to do, fear that my not knowing would be the end for me and cause my family pain.  Fear is perhaps the real disease that I need freedom from.

“Lord, what do You wish of me? What happens when I return to regular life from this cozy nursery where I was fostered?” My audible, yet whispered question joined the splashes of the river as it tripped over snags and boulders.FullSizeRender (2)

While God didn’t respond with perceptible, English words, He did respond. I looked at the chipmunks going about their business, heard the sparrows and mountain bluebirds gossiping in trees, and watched the river cavort down the mountain. The answer was there and the forest was embodying it.

             Stop striving. Stop agonizing. Don’t fear the bears in life you will encounter. Let Me take care of you again, the way you did when you lived here.

My striving and giving fear a prominent place in life had gotten me nowhere. It could even be part of my struggle with illness.  The forest flourished without striving. Each critter conquering the task it had in front of it, content in that task and only that task. I had been that way once, and I needed to return to it.

Simple, but therein lies the secret I had been searching for—the missing puzzle piece—the anecdote to the disease of fear that crouches in wait: God is the one who is caring for me, if I let Him, just like He cares for my beautiful forest and all the critters that live there.

IMG_1257 I left my rock by the river later that day but I took the secret in the forest with me. I delight in returning to that instant of revelation, mentally revisiting moments of peace on my big rock by the river, when I knew beyond a doubt that I was in God’s care again.