I grew up surrounded by evergreens.

When the winter months would come, I’d find solace in the greenness of the trees, knowing that even with the chill, we were still very much alive.

Growing up in a sylvan northern California microcosm, I had always felt a strong connection to nature. However, I had never pushed myself into its most wild state. I had never given myself the chance to experience the remote, un-showered, unfettered, tranquil, glorious beauty of its farthest reaches. I hadn’t strapped the essentials onto my back or loaded them into a canoe and set out to live for a time with just the earth.

In the same month that I was parting ways with the man who changed this and took me on my first extended backcountry camping adventures, I was cofounding a women’s wilderness group with a friend. In the time I spent with this man, I had lived in awestruck adoration in the passenger seat of his wilderness expertise. He largely took on navigation and planning, and I focused on feeling the vastness of the moment and the energy of the place. When we’d leave these adventures, I would long for them. Framing him in the extreme grandeur of our shared travel, I would also long for him. The problems that would arise between us didn’t matter as long as I could get that next hit of the wild; just look me in the eyes and tell me all the places you will take me.

A few months before the official founding of Wild Wilderness Women, the idea popped into my head while journaling in a tent in the backcountry of Alaska. The following month, my partner would be off with a group of his male friends for their annual wilderness trip. Their annual tradition was a wonderful concept. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t fight the question of, “Why weren’t the women in my life doing something similar?”

Through the wilderness, I’d found a new and growing sense of empowerment. I had also observed the different ways in which my partner and I would experience the places we traveled, and I came to honor my uniquely feminine view of nature. It was never a conquest for me, but an appreciation—never something to be conquered, but something to honor and learn from in sweet reverie. I wanted to be out there with other women with whom I felt could understand this and connect with each other in a valuable way.

[bctt tweet=”Through the wilderness, I’d found a new and growing sense of empowerment.”]

As soon as I was back in civilization, I contacted my friend, and over beers and a great deal of excitement in the District of Columbia, the two of us sketched out the plans for our new group. I was excited to discuss this work with my partner, and it just so happened that the first chance I got to, two days before the Wild Wilderness Women’s first day hike, was also the day we broke up.

On the inaugural day hike, I confessed to my cofounder that I was just really going to miss having someone with whom I could go on outdoor adventures. She gave me a kind smile and her eyes gently said, “Look around you,” and I appreciated the sentiment deeply, but still felt too raw to really internalize the magnitude of its meaning.

I remember my first winter living on the east coast. The deciduous trees, once a lush and filling green, turned into fiery reds and oranges, lustful purples, and cheerful yellows. Then, one by one, they dried up and fell away, leaving bare branches and stark forests. At first, it felt magical, but as the months passed, my heart began to feel as if it was following the fading color of those leaves, left in a barren, lifeless land. I longed for familiar and comforting evergreens.

This winter, the Wild Wilderness Women went cross-country skiing in rural Maryland. It was a new activity for nearly all of us. As we took off through a wooded trail, I found my eyes focused downward on the skis in front of me, trying to keep my balance, move forward, and employ all we’d learned in our morning lesson. I huffed and puffed and moved forward with determination.

I had taken up the back of the group, and so slowly let myself gain a little distance between us. Then I made myself just stop, take a deep breath, and listen to the stillness of nature around me. At that moment, I also looked up from my skis. And there was that winter forest. Except now it didn’t seem so barren to me. Instead, I realized that it was showing me something that I couldn’t see when all the leaves were rich and abundant. I had been so caught up in the details and the struggles right before me, that I neglected to see the forest for the trees.

[bctt tweet=”…I neglected to see the forest for the trees.”]

I then turned my gaze from the open forest to the unique, spirited, supportive women ahead of me, each plowing through something new that we’d never done before, each humbly falling down in front of each other and getting back up stronger each time. I thought about my cofounder’s past assurance to “look around me.” Around me was all that we had wished alive. Around me was the woman I am and the woman I want to be. Around me was the wilderness that I could adore on my own and in my own way, not just as a passenger, but also as a leader. Around me was the evidence that I didn’t need someone to tell me all the places they would take me. I was already going there on my own. Around me was my forest of amazing Wild Wilderness Women.

[bctt tweet=”Around me was the wilderness that I could adore…not just as a passenger, but also as a leader.”]

Earlier in our founding, I had posed our group the question, “What makes us wild?” We shared great laughs over responses such as not shaving, tequila, and Diva Cups, but looking at my forest now, I realized I hadn’t answered the question myself.

I thought about the confines women still face across a broad spectrum of topics today, and also of how many brilliant women I know who have pushed beyond the bounds of any limits placed in their path. We take what we learn in captivity, I decided, and then we set it wild. That’s what makes us wild. I saw the open expanse of everything each one of us could ever be, and then I huffed and puffed my way forward to catch back up with those who set me free.