top of page

Forest v. Desert

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

a Rugged Outdoors Woman Writing Group Collection

The more I've traveled within the US in the past 5 years, the more I realize just how expansive and diverse this place is. And the more I realize that I could wander this land until my dying day and still not feel like I've seen it all. The mountains, the oceans, the forests, the deserts. I have always been the type of person to wander. And everywhere I wander, almost as if by reflex, I think, "I could live here. I could be a part of this place." But when you feel that way everywhere you go, how do you decide where to stop. I have always longed to feel a part of some place. Can the desire to see it all and to know it all deeply both be satisfied in such a vast universe?


Forest v. Desert

by Christine Reed

And whoever said I wanted to be like a tree in the forest anyhow?

One among millions

Branches intertwined

Making up a dense canopy

My leaves indiscernible from my neighbors

Roots twisted and tangled and trampled

Holding on to each other for strength

Speaking through the air and earth

I always thought of myself more like the cactus

Standing always apart from my kind

Able to withstand harsh conditions

Growing slowly so as not to overextend my limited resources

Sharp and prickly and painfully human

Roots wide and shallow and thirsty

Gripping tightly to unstable sand

Slowly my flesh turns to wood

Find Christine on Instagram and TikTok @ruggedoutdoorswoman

Read her memoir Alone in Wonderland for a journey on the Wonderland Trail.


For Rest

by Marty Cowan

Preparing to go miles on my feet in the mountains

Only a Garmin to keep tabs on me*

The forest is for wonderers

That rock is really cool, I want to take it

I pick it up, stare at it, I wonder how old it is

Who else has touched this rock?

I placed it in a spot where someone else will find it

and be curious.

The forest is for wanderers

Life’s questions diverted by the bird’s songs

And the momma deer and her babies

Letting the tall grasses touch my hands, my legs

The forest gets dark

The dense, thick trees

The air noticeably cooler

The smell of the earth

Where life ends, begins, and ends, and begins.

The forest is for rest

After a big elevation gain

After pushing my muscles

After pushing my emotional tolerance

I want to savor all of it

Taking off my backpack

Sitting on a rock alone on the earth.

*Don’t tell my mom, she watches a lot of true crime shows

(that always seem to happen in Colorado)

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


Emptiness of Healing

by Belinda Arndt

The story goes that cowboys would round up the wild mustangs that roamed the mesa and herd them down the neck of the peninsula down a 30-foot-wide entrance fenced off with branches and brush. Sadly, for unknown reasons, the herd was left and forgotten. After a while, the horses succumbed to death without food or water. The legend says the horses can be seen and heard still roaming the area.


Hostile, desolate, and barren. I wasn’t describing the landscape. I dramatically stupidly swore a year ago I would never come here. Just like those horses, I felt left and forgotten by someone.

The darkness still blanketed Dead Horse State Park when I arrived. But when I got to the overlook, I could see the orange outline of the La Sal Mountains. My first time seeing these mountains this close. I started to get this giant smile on my face. I swore I could walk up to them if I kept going straight. Thankfully I didn’t because a minute later, I started to see outlines of these brown rocks turning different shades of red each second as the sun began to rise more.

The light pierced the darkness and showed the 2,000-foot drop to the Colorado River. It matched identically to my jacket.

Right then, for the first time in about a year, I finally felt seen in this wide opening. I found comfort in being this exposed in this emptiness, probably because I felt empty for that year.

I started to tear up, seeing the beauty right before me. I was crying because, for once, emptiness was a beautiful thing.

Deserts are more alive than we give them credit for. Yes, they may only get officially 10 inches or so of rain each year, but they get so much more water from the tears we cry. Or the sweat we produce hiking our problems away.

Maybe just maybe, this land isn’t as barren as one thinks.

It is amusing that the places you heal have vast emptiness. The saying “Like attracts like” is true. From one empty soul to this empty opening in Utah, this place started to mend my heart that was probably somewhere down below among the horses.

Belinda Arndt is a solo traveler and adventurer based outside of Washington DC. Her tagline is "It's always an adventure with me!" Catch her adventures on her website which aims to build a community of solo travelers to share their travel stories. You can find her on instagram @wandering_bel and Facebook at Wandering Bel Blog


(*wish this metaphor didn’t exist)

by Bronwyn Preece

i live amongst a culture which is in the process of forgetting, unlearning -- has simply forgotten

how – to see the forest for the trees …

to feel the forest for the trees




i exist as both sapling and mother tree …

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.


Desert Rose

by Anne Whiting

This piece is an original song with music, available to listen on Youtube

I can see forever from sky to sky Every view a lifetime in blowing sand I’d never have chosen to live out here But red and brown is home of these dry lands I will learn to love the wasteland I will learn what it is to hope More than survive this bone-dry land I will thrive as a desert rose No sun will make me wither No wind will parch me dry I’m lonely but never alone No heat will drive me from here No storm, wash me away I stand to bloom another day I am a desert rose I will thrive as a desert rose Climb down to the springs I’ve always clung to There’s nothing left here but cracked, dry earth Learn to love the thorns and spines and deep roots Seek the seep, small drips of life rebirthed I am a desert rose

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, Patreon, and Instagram @viewjunkieanne


The Forest Knows

by Meaghan Martin

The first time I sat in silence in the forest was the summer between my seventh and eighth grade school years. My sister and I had been granted scholarships to a week of sleepaway conservation camp, a luxury our family otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. I learned about hunter safety, fire building, and creating a primitive shelter out of natural materials. There was also lots of time for swimming, canoeing, chasing frogs and turtles, playing games, and sitting quietly.

That week was my first introduction to intentional mindfulness, though I don’t remember anyone calling it that. Every morning before breakfast we were instructed to spread out among the boulders and dense trees. We were to sit alone in silence, taking in sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the forest, alive all around us. I felt the warmth of the early morning sun on my face, the gritty texture of the boulder beneath me. I breathed in the scents of pine and decomposing wood, and listened to the birds sing their “good morning’s” to one another. I left camp at the end of the week feeling more whole, connected, and at peace than I could ever remember having felt before.

The more time I’ve spent in the forest, the more I’ve learned from her wisdom. Trees don’t exist alone, competing with the others around them for resources of sunlight and water. Instead, they are connected through vast root systems and mycorrhizal networks. There is evidence that, in a way, trees in the forest care for each other, alerting neighbors about disease or danger and nurturing their young.

Small trees who cannot yet reach the canopy to gather enough sunlight to photosynthesize on their own instead must rely on the surrounding trees to pump the sugar water necessary for growth and survival, down into their roots. Larger mother trees make water available to saplings with root systems that don’t yet reach deep enough to draw up enough water on their own. Trees of different species have developed relationships with their neighbors because it makes the forest more stable and is beneficial for both species over time.

The forest is self-sustaining nourishment. Leaves turn vibrant hues before dropping to the ground, where they’re eventually broken down and become part of the soil. Squirrels and birds pick apart pinecones, spreading the seeds further than the reach of the tree who produced them ever could. Trees work together to care for each other. All that lives, dies, and that which dies feeds new life.

We could learn a thing or two from the forest. Even the trees know we are all better when we support those who can’t yet stand alone, when we look out for our neighbors, and when we remember that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. The forest knows the time for rest, the periods of transition, and the beauty of rebirth. The forest knows the significance of rising from the ashes. Maybe if we link our fingers together like roots, we too can know what it’s like to be better together than alone.

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


Desert is Life, Not Death

By Bianca Salazar

I venture into the desert, it’s not my first time and I am confident I don’t want to make it my last. Prior to this trip projected fears of others were cast my way; they commonly lead to one final and frightening outcome, death.

As I start my hike, the “what ifs” roll and bounce in my head like windblown tumbleweeds in the arid landscape. I’d be feigning naivety if I said I wasn’t aware of the dangers, the possible perils, and the deadly realities of the desolate, dry desert. I depend on my knowledge and previous experiences to go in prepared.

A rattlesnake retreats from the summer heat, it coils and cozies up against a cool sandstone boulder, it rests peacefully. The vibrations of sound from my clicking trekking poles stirs the reptile, swiftly its vibrations emit a rattling from its tail. The warning halts my progress, cautiously I scan the dull colored rocks, grasses, and dirt well-aware the venomous bite may be fatal.

With well-placed steps away from the rattle I continue my journey. The sound dissipates as I create distance between us. I’m crossing numerous washes as the dirt footpath leads me into dry, tumbled river rocks embedded in the sunbaked dirt of a wash, which at some point in the past provided a way for the water to swiftly move. The surrounding vegetation is sharp, full of weeds covered in dry stickers that snag on my wool socks and mesh toe boxes. As the rocks shift from my weight scorpions dart to nearby nooks seeking protection from me.

I break frequently to stare into the pistils of the pink, yellow and violet cactus blooms, the cactus spines surrounding the flowers jutting out haphazardly. I examine the natural, balanced structure of the petals. I think about the variety of fruit producing cactus, worse-case scenario, if I run out of food there’s plenty of edible desert fruits and flowers.

The sun’s rays are bright, the air is hot and dry, heat emanates from the gravel trail. My deliberate outfit of a long-sleeved hoodie and pants keep me cool and protect me from the ultraviolet rays. My baseball cap and sunglasses protect my face and eyes and I secure my hood over my cap to protect the back of my neck. The afternoon temperature is in the 80s, most people wouldn’t even consider hiking at this time.

My heavy pack may slow me down a bit, most of the extra weight is water, I’m carrying at least 1.5 times what I’d carry in cooler, less exposed conditions. The extra weight of water, salty snacks and electrolyte drinks are worth it to avoid succumbing to the elements.

I’m far from civilization, I have no phone service, I’m not in a place where an ATV or dirt bike may come across me if I have a medical emergency. I planned it this way, not in a macabre way; I planned it so I’d be unbothered. No chime from a trivial notification on my phone, no meaningless interaction with a human who isn’t here in the middle of nowhere for the same reason I am. I glance at my inReach, I’ve gone 5 miles, my planned water source isn’t much further.

I peer into the distance, mostly rolling desert hills covered in muted colors, as I scan towards my destination I see a pop of green. It reassures me, I’m headed in the right direction. Evidence of wildlife is found in the dirt paw prints along the path. They likely visit the water often, it’s the only reliable source for miles; after storms they may be lucky to find a tinaja or an arroyo to slurp from.

The sun bears down as a bead of sweat rolls down my brow bone stinging as the mixture of sweat and sunscreen hits my eye. I squint and blink rapidly hoping to dissipate the burning. When I look up bright chartreuse leaves appear to flicker as the sun and air bounce off them. Being aware of the oasis does not take away from my delight of the thriving environment contrasted by the surrounding desert. I attempt to imagine what it must have been like for the Indigenous people to find this blessing, this necessary resource. They used to live off the land here, thrive here, survive here without all the gear and luxuries I have brought with me.

I check the ground and surrounding shaded spots for gila monsters, snakes, and tarantulas before setting my gear down. I find a spot to sit while I filter water and refill my reservoirs. The breeze in this shaded area is slightly cooler than the exposed areas, I tilt my head back and take deep, controlled breaths, I feel rejuvenated. A twig breaking on the opposite bank snaps me back to the present, a small herd of pronghorn bound away from the water’s edge.

I thank the water and trees for the respite they provided. The oasis fades behind me and soon I’m dropping into more dry washes. A low sandstone wall parallels the wash, my eyes dance along the smooth, varnish-covered wall, they follow the labyrinth etched lines, the rudimentary sketches of animals and people memorialized in petroglyphs. What were they hoping to relay by leaving these here? A history we may never fully know lives on in its own way.

Emerging from the canyon I’ve arrived at my camp spot for the night. I set up my tent as the sun sets. The sun’s rays which were harsh and bright earlier in the day are now soft as they bounce off the dust particles in the air forming a dynamic range of colors from fiery yellows and oranges to cotton candy pinks and purples. In the distance I hear coyotes howling and barking. I’m absorbing the feeling of being one with nature. I’m in their yard, I’m the intruder even as I try my best to not be intrusive.

I’m not sure how long I stared at the changing colors of the sky as the last hues of purple have faded. The black of night has taken over the sky filled with glistening stars and the cloudy band of the Milky Way takeover to provide me a new sight to get lost in. I lay back peering at the seemingly endless stars. In my peripheral I see movement, I dare not move until I determine what it is. My eyes adjust to reveal a silhouette of a fox. He is nothing to worry about, but I choose not to move so I can watch him curiously examine my tent. After only a few seconds he moves on.

I climb into my tent. My sleeping bag is warm, it’s made for the cooler night temperatures. Owls hoot in the distance as I think about my successful day in the desert, I am confident this is not my last; I didn’t die.

Bianca is a lover of the outdoors; she shares her experiences with others knowing that not everyone is able to see and do all the things she gets to. She enjoys the little things on hikes: smelling the trees, listening to the leaves whistle in the wind and watching the flowing sunlight on the water. Capturing photographs of her journeys helps her convey the beauty that surrounds her. You can find her on instagram @adventuresofbink , facebook at Bianca Marie Salazar and her personal blog Adventures of Bink


Don't miss out on future writing collections from the Rugged Outdoors Women Write group.

Sign up here for newsletters from Christine!

Read previous collections here.

112 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page