Living in the land of fleece and Suburus, where it’s perfectly normal to see a cubicle dweller wearing hiking shoes in the office, it sometimes feels like everyone in the Pacific Northwest can pitch a tent and build a fire in five minutes flat.
But for those who can’t, who have questions big and small, there’s the new, and very handy, book: A Woman’s Guide to the Wild.
I met up with the book’s author, Eugene, Oregon’s Ruby McConnell, at Seattle’s Discovery Park for a simultaneous interview and hike. First I asked her why she thought it was necessary to write an outdoor handbook specifically geared at women.
“Because I was looking for it and it wasn’t there. I was surrounded by men and they do things really differently. I just kept thinking, there’s gotta be a book that tells me how to cook, or tells me how I’m supposed to pack or explains the gear to me.”
It’s a well-rounded outdoor guide covering everything from picking out the perfect pair of hiking boots to more complex concepts like navigation and compass reading. She also delves into camping with kids, and says there’s no need to pack tons of toys and electronics.
“They have sticks and rocks and ferns and animals and noises and water. They’re fine.”
And just when you start to wonder what makes it a woman’s guide, McConnell will teach you how to tie a knot and then how to french braid your own hair.
“I talk about makeup, I talk about hair. The assumption is, you go into the wilderness and you no longer care about beauty standards. I’m just free, I’m a wild being, I am totally self assured and confident in who I am. No! Why would you all of a sudden be comfortable? Especially if you’re on a date. You’re not going to be able to put on foundation, you’re not going to be able to do major eye shadow. But if you want a little bit of eyeliner, you want a little bit of lip gloss on, you want to have your nails painted. Go, do it, it’s fine.”
She wants to empower women who don’t think they have a place in the wilderness, and help show them the ropes.
“I really hope this is a gift a lot of young women receive as graduation presents as a coming-of-age thing because it’s the first time in your life, possibly, that you’ve gone off and done camping by yourself. You don’t have all the gear that you need and you’re not sure what is in that camping bin that mom and dad lug around. It would be really great to see it as a sort of: you’re on your own, you can do this.”
I didn’t believe her until I looked online, but McConnell says there are still people out there who think women shouldn’t be out in the wild when they’re on their periods, because they could be attacked by bears.
“It’s so pervasive that the National Park Service has an entire web page devoted to debunking it. It’s like a form of outdoor hazing that’s designed to make women feel like they can’t be outside, by virtue of their bodies. Like you’re endangering someone or yourself. So the myth comes from 1967; two women who were attacked in Yellowstone by a bear. The myth stemmed out of, oh, they must have been menstruating.”
The book does have a whole section on menstruation, with stories from other wilderness women and a guide to making a DIY disposal kit for backpacking trips.
Click here to get your own copy of the book.
Ruby McConnell is doing a book reading tonight, March 29th, at Third Place Books Lake Forest tonight at 7 pm. She’ll be at Village Books in Bellingham Thursday, March 31th at 7pm.