In January, The Seattle Times asked women of the Pacific Northwest to share their experiences with the outdoors for a special print edition of The Mix. We received hundreds of responses that touched on themes of finding camaraderie within women-led spaces, founding organizations to bridge the gap between women in the outdoors, healing, challenges and more.
“I have enjoyed the outdoors my whole life,” said one woman of her experience in the outdoors. “But as a 56-year-old woman, for most of that time, I felt like an interloper in male space. I had to prove myself worthy of being there, even as I led outings and knew that I had decades of experience.”
Here are some more of our readers’ stories.
If you’d like to share your experience, submit using the form below.
Changing dynamics of the outdoors
“I have enjoyed the outdoors my whole life, but as a 56-year-old woman, for most of that time, I felt like an interloper in male space. I had to prove myself worthy of being there, even as I led outings and knew that I had decades of experience. I have seen, however, an enormous change in the last seven years. To me, it seems that social media platforms have played a positive role in increased engagement for women in the outdoors. We have been able to find affinity groups, like PNW Outdoor Women, and make real life connections. Being able to share skills and increase knowledge with other women is so empowering. I am forever grateful for my time spent outdoors and the places my body takes me. Hiking with intentionality allows me to connect with Mother Nature. I recognize that spending time in the serenity of the forests has given me a greater sense of the interconnectedness of the natural world, while the awe and wonder I feel on a mountain summit always puts life’s worries into perspective. Quite simply, spending time in the outdoors is a lifestyle choice that feeds my physical, emotional and mental health.”
— Michele Finnegan
A nonprofit helps people of color discover the outdoors
“I formed the nonprofit The Bronze Chapter for the purpose of creating/opening access, education and opportunities for BIPOC to discover and experience the outdoors. Through campouts, activities and classes, we help people of color learn outdoor skills, which we hope will take folx from the park to our magnificent Pacific Northwest backcountry and wilderness spaces and beyond. The organization is Black female run (by me) and very different in that The Bronze Chapter is skills-oriented. We intentionally expose folx to the importance of stewardship, conservation, preservation, leave no trace and how those support legacy and the future health of outdoors spaces and our planet at large. We’d love to see more and more who come through The Bronze Chapter become outdoor leaders and advocates for the natural world in their own ways. BIPOC ambassadors of discovery! Though I’ve been doing this work on my own as an individual since 2018, I just formed The Bronze Chapter as an educational nonprofit in the summer of 2021. After a four-month wait in the IRS queue, we’ve finally just recently received our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Many good things ahead to increase justice, equity, diversity and inclusivity in the outdoors.”
— Denice Rochelle
Climbing a mountain with survivors
“In December of 2017, I heard those dreaded words, “you have cancer.” This was the start of a journey that led to a mastectomy, chemo, radiation, more surgeries and ongoing medication. It was such a scary time, and I wondered how I would get through. During chemo, I discovered Team Survivor — a nonprofit that provides free health and fitness programs to women with a cancer diagnosis. I attended the annual retreat and signed up to climb Mount Adams with the group, even though we had minimal climbing experience. I wasn’t sure how I, a mid-50 mother of three, was going to get through cancer, let alone climb a 12,000-foot mountain carrying a 45-pound pack and camp in the snow. From hiking a few miles to learning how to use an ice ax and glissade down a mountain, we trained and grew stronger together to ultimately reach the summit. Together, we conquered so much more and proved to ourselves that the impossible can be possible. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to explore the stunning (and often) soggy mountains of the Pacific Northwest. This epic experience ignited a love of hiking and deep appreciation of Washington’s natural beauty just a short drive away.”
— Jo Gartenberg
Walking for friendship (and money)
“My neighbor friend and I started walking together after retiring 15 years ago. We walk most mornings Monday through Friday at 7 a.m. We’d try to get in 12,000 steps (a 4-mile route) and would pick up an occasional coin. After a few years, we decided to save the money we found to see how much we’d find in a year. That first year of savings, we found about $7 and decided to put it towards lunch for our mutual March birthdays. A route change to include our local shopping center in Edgewood morphed our money find up to $230 in 2021 (thanks to finding a $50 and $20 dollar bill). The last few years we have matched our find and donated that money to charity. Collecting coins and submitting them to charities is rewarding, but being outdoors, greeting the morning, watching and listening to the birds, meeting new people and dogs and enjoying each other’s company is the best part and continues to inspire us to keep walking.
— Dorothy M. Bean
Saving trees through Our Forest Fund
“To me the outdoors means trees. Big trees, and lots of them. Growing up in Northern California, I found comfort, solitude, wonder and adventure amongst grand live oaks, towering coast redwoods, stout Jeffrey pines, walnut orchards and lovely mature gardens. Now, in the Pacific Northwest, I couldn’t be happier. I’ve covered most hiking trails in the Olympics, at Mount Rainier and near my home in north Kitsap. I remember the first time I saw a solo female backpacker at Long Ridge Trail. I thought to myself, I wonder if I could do that? Finally, I found the courage to take my first solo backpack trip on the East Fork Quinault. It was the most liberating experience in my life. Now, I find myself working to save trees. Two other women and I, who met at a park stewardship meeting, were saddened by clear cuts on nearby county park land. We decided to do something about it, so we founded Our Forest Fund. Our mission is to save trees from clear-cut harvest, starting with the county park. The natural world is stressed; we hope to make a positive impact by keeping trees standing.”
— Kim Greenwood
A passion for nature fueled by butoh
“After settling in Seattle in 1990, I realized my love for spending time outdoors in all seasons, hiking and skiing. While moving dirt around to shape our new home’s landscape, I decided to become a gardener, a job I still have. My passion for nature is fueled by my artistic practice, that of butoh, a performance genre that erupted out of post-World War II Japan and became a global phenomenon. For me, butoh celebrates the body as nature; training explores the elemental body — water, wind, earth, fire — with performances frequently being inspired by nature imagery and improvised within a structure. I became a guide at the Seattle Japanese Garden in 2010, I am a past president of their volunteer organization, and I perform there. My annual event “Wandering & Wondering” is site-specific, three-hour long event with dancers and musicians dispersed throughout the garden and visitors moving through the landscape at their leisure. This is an annual event at Kubota Garden as well. The directive is not to perform in the sense of, “here I am, look at me,” but to become another element of the garden. One year, visitors delighted in witnessing my “duet” with a heron that was patiently fishing for baby koi.
— Joan Laage (Kogut Butoh)
Explore the women-led outdoors organizations mentioned in this edition …
Submit your own story of no more than 200 words here: forms.gle/HmRuAaZ3ecMGX8Xf9. If you are unable to load the form, please email your response to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have photos you would like to include with your response, please make sure they are larger than 2 megabytes in size. Photos can be submitted through the Google Form or emailed to email@example.com. Then, look out for future stories like this to see our compilations of readers’ experiences in the outdoors.