Updated: Apr 25
Over the years, with thousands of miles of trail beneath my feet, I have been asked so many times whether I would choose mountains or ocean. In Alone in Wonderland, I hazarded to say, whichever is in front or beneath me right now. "I have always felt a kinship with the ocean, and the mountains are a relatively new player in my life. There is no comparison, they are apples and oranges, both amazing in their own right." Standing there on the slopes of Mt Rainier beside an alpine lake, I posed the question, "how can you be present in such a beautiful place and not love it more than anything else? It is real and encompassing, and is there any greater love than presence?"
This question still comes up often, even within my own heart. I leave my home in Colorado to swim in the ocean, and my mind immediately begins dreaming of a life by the sea. I stand at 14000 feet overlooking the endless Rocky Mountains and wonder what life would be like without knowing what that feeling.
I brought this question to my writing group, an intrepid selection of strong, outdoorsy writers, for a friendly challenge to write and share. They immediately split down the middle. It seemed as though they each knew exactly which side they were on, making me feel even more confused in my own inability to choose. The whole week, I couldn't decide which side to land on and eventually wrote a short poem that is as indecisive as I was.
Please enjoy the following pieces written by a collection of writers in the Rugged Outdoors Women Write writer's group:
Mountains v. Ocean
by Christine Reed
Sometimes I am the mountain.
Strong, proud, and immoveable.
I do not bow to the wind.
I do not change for anyone else.
I am rugged, radiant, reaching upward.
I was here before we were all born.
I will be here after.
Sometimes I am the ocean.
Waves crashing one after the next.
The rain makes me stronger, wilder.
I am constant change.
Bringing always something new.
I am salty, soulful, soothing.
I am born and born and born again.
Find Christine on Instagram and TikTok @ruggedoutdoorswoman
Read her memoir Alone in Wonderland for more stories about mountains.
by Tatiana Corbitt
Sea foam green
and a fatal undertow
As the moon does wax and wane
Her tide does ebb and flow
with a grey-white froth
On the horizon, blue-tinted waters
Refract glittering diamonds
Against a satin-blue sash
An ever-changing form
With the scent of algae blooms
Grains of wet sand
Cement to my feet
I'm sinking into tidepools
Stand still too long
and I'll be washed away
or become driftwood
Buried in shallow, sandy graves
Tatiana is a writer and artist living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She graduated with her M.S. in Applied Biological Sciences in 2019 and is currently working on her debut novel. Her writing is frequently published on narcolepsy.sleep-disorders.net
Tatiana Secretly Loves the Mountains More than the Beach and Here's Why
by Marty Cowan
I must word spar against Tatiana, who has a fabulous name.
In my mind, Tatiana is a rugged mountain goddess warrior who could kick my ass in sentences, paragraphs, and narrative.
She is outfitted in leaves and leather, muscles covered in dirt, and scars scattered about displaying her fearlessness and fortitude.
Her bow is strapped to her body; the arrow affixed with her ideas.
She pulls against the resistance of the tight string with her strong fingers and releases her theories, interpretations, and objectives to the world.
The bow shoots through the sky, covering time and space.
And the world listens.
But she’s not done.
The trail is slick, the air is cold and thin in higher elevation.
She climbs to higher ground, slipping on precarious scree, noticing the blood streaming down her leg.
She could turn around, she knows that.
But she’s not done.
Her thoughts and words help ease the burden of the alpine wilderness, and the wild harshness of her soul.
Not looking too much forward, and never looking back, Tatiana reaches into her mind to gather the next chapter.
She loads her bow, pulls back, and lets go.
Looking down, the rock is shaped like a heart.
Looking forward, the leaf is shaped like a heart.
Looking up, the cloud is shaped like a heart.
Human hearts all over smile with her words.
Tatiana the mountain dweller, doesn’t need a compass.
And she is not done.
Marty Cowan is the author of Table To Trail a collection of plant-based recipes for day hikers. You can find her on Instagram @tabletotrail
Is it a Mountain?
by Anne Whiting
Head to the sky
Accepting its place
Extending its solace for the hope of the peoples
A palette of colors
Within hallowed places
Of water and forest
Graceful in shaking one season for another
Beauty still shaping
In grit and in movement
To reform and rebuild
From the carcass of what it was before
Find the gold
To show the world
What was hidden from erstwhile eyes of yore
No one like another
Birthed in a womb of fire and ice
Is it a mountain, or is it myself?
Anne Whiting has been creating adventure opportunities through trail guides since 2010. She publishes her guides on her blog and in book form. When not dreaming up new trails, she likes to play music with her band and dabble in digital art and website development. Follow Anne’s past and present adventures on Facebook, MeWe, Patreo, and Instagram @viewjunkieanne
by Meaghan Martin
I was born four days after the full moon. My sun sign is in cancer, an oceanic crab, destined to experience a moodiness that comes and goes like the tides. I swam from my mother’s body and my cries of life burst forth before I was guided into her arms.
The ocean is in my blood. My parents grew up on opposite sides of Cape Cod. My father worked on a fishing boat as a teen, pulling up traps and hauling pungent bins of freshly caught fish to waiting trucks. My mother worked on a whale watching boat, guiding tourists as the captain steered them through the bay and out into the waters of the Atlantic. The tourists would ooh and ahh as 30-ton humpback whales would feed, nurse their young, and throw themselves into the air before falling back to the surface of the water with a dramatic splash.
It was the ocean that brought my parents together. My father was a lifeguard at Hardings Beach and my mother was driving an ice cream truck for a company owned by her ex-boyfriend’s family. She met the handsome young lifeguard at one of her beach stops and before long, my dad was one of her regulars. When her ex-boyfriend found out about their budding romance, he tried to change her route, but fate had already begun spinning their story. They dated through college and married soon after. A couple short years later, I arrived.
At nine months old I received my first set of beach attire as a gift from my grandparents,
recently returned home from after their winter migration to and from Florida. It was a true 90’s outfit consisting of a color blocked orange, yellow, and purple one-piece swimsuit and blue shades.
I wore it that summer when I made my first pilgrimage to the ocean. It was near my first birthday and my parents brought me to Hardings Beach where they’d met. I don’t remember it, but I’ve been told that my eyes got wide as I took everything in. Throughout the day I giggled with glee as I splashed in the water and played with fistfuls of sun-warmed sand.
A year and a half after my birth I was joined by my first sister, and then three and a half years
later we became a gang of three rowdy girls when my youngest sister was born. We would visit the beach, and would play in tidal pools, gently pulling aside curtains of seaweed to find tiny green crabs, periwinkles, and mussels all hidden within.
We would walk out waist-deep into the waves, sometimes neck-deep if we were brave, and
would ride our boogie boards, coasting back to shore. We’d spread out onto the beach blanket and dig eagerly into the soft sided red cooler, pulling out a stick of pepperoni and block of cheese. Mom would cut slices on a little cutting board and hand them to us stacked on crackers. We’d always end up with sand crunching between our teeth while we snacked, but we didn’t care.
The summer I turned twelve my parents sold our first house. I was devastated to leave the only home I’d ever known, to no longer have access to the forest and yard that I’d memorized. I left behind the trees I’d climbed, the wooded trails we’d walked, and the toy bounce horse that my sisters and I, in a rare moment of teamwork, had hidden in the bushes after it broke, and my parents said they were going to throw it away.
“We’re building a new house” my parents had told us. We each picked out paint colors and light fixtures and carpets for our bedrooms, but when our old house sold, the new one wasn’t ready yet. My parents rented a house near the ocean for the summer and said we’d make the most of it.
What had started early in my childhood as anxiety and depression became even more
complicated with the heartbreaking despair that came from leaving my home and moving into someone else’s. Any solace I could find came from the horse I’d began leasing, and our family bicycle rides to and from the nearby state park beach where I would spend hours listening to the waves. The surf met the sand in a perpetual aliveness, like breaths in and out, in direct contrast with how much I wished I no longer had to be alive.
As I moved into high school, beach days with my family became something to dread. I despised how my body looked in bathing suits, and I wore shorts and t-shirts to cover the scars that had begun to litter my thighs and upper arms. We visited Fort Williams Park, a place that I’d loved as a young child, where waves crashed into rocky cliffs and an old, falling down fort had provided hours of entertainment.
The joy that little me had felt in that place disappeared as a teen and was replaced by the
anxiety of worrying if my family would discover my secrets. We would sit at picnic tables, eating snacks and playing games, and while my sisters worked on becoming more tan, I worked on becoming more invisible.
In college I found myself drawn to the same park again. I would visit, bringing my textbooks with me, and I would sit in the sunshine on top of one of the forts to study. By that time, I had met my favorite book, with my favorite line. You’re not a wave; you’re part of the ocean. And as I sat by the ocean, I could feel the truth of it sink in.
One night a friend and I parked on a nearby street. Dressed in dark clothes, we walked along the road on the sidewalk towards the park. We tried to be inconspicuous as we waited until we couldn’t hear any approaching cars.
“Now!” we whispered to each other, and we sprinted for the chain link fence. Our hearts raced as we climbed up and threw ourselves over. Once safely inside the park, we made our way through the darkness. Many people would break into the park at night to drink and party. We just wanted to sit on the cliffs and watch the beam from the lighthouse dance across the waves below, capturing the reflection of the moon in it’s grasp for a split second as it passed over.
It wasn’t until graduate school that I experienced being surrounded fully by ocean as my partner and I embarked on a cruise with two close friends. They had found a deal where we could join them if we just paid the taxes on our trip. We’d been doing our grocery shopping at the Dollar Tree for a long time by then and never thought we could afford a luxury like a cruise. It was pure magic.
The sun warmed my face as I watched the ocean sparkle, surrounding me. During our visits in port, we would go ashore and snorkel with sea turtles and colorful fish and an octopus, and I would find myself wondering how it was possible for the water to actually be that blue. When I fell asleep at night the waves rocked me gently and I felt safe and held, like I imagined I once felt tucked up inside my mom’s belly before birth.
The ocean is where I’ve sought solace from any number of heartbreaks. It’s where I’ve laughed from joy as I’ve galloped at full speed on horseback, tears leaking from my eyes and streaking down my face from the sheer speed of it. It’s where I’ve let the wind and waves rip sobs from my chest and carry my cries out over the water. It’s where I’ve found peace. A simple stick-and-poke wave tattooed onto my foot reminds me of what’s in my blood, of where I came from, and that I am a part of something bigger than myself. The ocean, and the pieces of it I carry with me, reassure me. Like the waves and the tides, and like every breath, what comes must also go, but what goes will always return.
Meaghan is a backpacker and writer living in Maine with loved ones and pets. You can find her on Instagram and TikTok at @meaghan_adventures
Mountains... (A Train of) Thoughts on a Tuesday
by Bronwyn Preece
Peak ... my interest
Face ... my fears
Rivers, waterfalls, glaciers ... disappearing ... (remember the girl and the polar bear?)
We are talking angles, geometry, an arithmetic of nuance, grade and ridge –
Where equipment becomes defined by the scale of altimeter, barometer, thermometer ....
Metres matching my feet .... Imperial measurements unwelcome, however, manifest in monikers imposed : Crown and Castle mountains dot landscapes everywhere -- where names stand as testaments to colonization –
These lands or these summits ... these lands and the summits ... stolen ...
Or disrespected when reached, contravening cultural protocols of respect We leave our garbage. We stand on peaks that aren’t meant to be stood on. Westerners angering Gods. What if prayer flags could save the world’s problems? I string them like Christmas lights outside my door in multiple crisscrossing strands. They fray. Bleed colour and hope. There is almost a sense of desperation here. A happy hippie. A happy hiker ... with endless challenges being made to my conscience. A thinking hippie. A thinking hiker, carrying the weight of the world in her pack. Is it any different that we have now made Everest a dump, rather than the bottom of the ocean?
We are shifting our wrath of exploitation and degradation – mountains standing pinnacles,
perhaps more resilient – or maybe it’s just less obvious to the suffering that they too sustain –
or, at least, initially – to what we have done. I am a part of that we. I walk there. I walk within
the mountains. I live within the mountains: importing my Amazon delivered boxes to my
doorstep, full of guidebooks which will lead me into the remoteness of .... Ranges, cordilleras, backbones, spines of continents. I dream in limestone, granite, shales and quartzites ... and then flick a switch which turns on my lights ... power streaming into my place as a result of some massive hydroelectric dam ... dammed in the mountains .... Flooding, destroying and displacing .... Oh the convenience of that one fingered flick ... all thanks to mountains. Do I remember them in that moment? No. Do I stop, inhale deeply, and feel complete awe and contentment when i step out and experience the morning or evening’s alpenglow? Yes. Always. But right now... I must remember to extend my Always moments to All the Time -- remembering that every moment of my every day is tied to mountains – implicitly, inextricably -- not just in the obvious ways: scheming my next hike, admiring the photos on my walls, the books on my shelves, the gear in my closet ... but the water, the heat, the weather ... whether i am here or there .... Mountains are my, your and our everywhere ...
Bronwyn Preece is honoured and privileged to live on the unceded Traditional Territories of
the Lil’wat # and Squamish Peoples in Whistler, BC. This awareness brings with it many levels of responsibility, humbleness, transparency, and collaborative possibilities. She is a site-sensitive poetic-pirate and multi-disciplinary, community-engaged arts practitioner. She holds a PhD in Performance, along with an MA and BFA in Applied Theatre. She has taught, facilitated workshops and performed internationally. She is the author of Gulf Islands Alphabet (Simply Read Books, 2012); and the forthcoming knee deep in high water: riding the Muskwa-Kechika, expedition poems (Caitlin Press, 2023) and Sea to Sky Alphabet (Simply Read Books, 2023); along with multiple academic and artistic publications. She is an avid solo, backcountry-backpacker who writes on the trail, with the word gratitude tattooed on her arm. Find her on instagram @poetichiker and Facebook at Bronwyn Preece.
I'm Sorry Wilson
by Leslie Niedermeyer
The sound of waves
A rush of water
Mother nature throws violent storms
Loss of ecosystem
Vast depths taken for granted
Nets and pollution
Choke whales, dolphins, turtles
With no discrimination
The endless beauty of reefs
Otters and octopus swimming
Kelp forests, their underwater home at risk
Beaches choked with plastic
A world once filled with beauty
Teaming with life
More than just shades of blue
Our disposable lifestyle
Truly not disposable
Leslie lives in Denver, she owns a women's guided backpacking business; Strange Trails Women's Adventures. Find her on Instagram @strangetrailsco
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