Stop. Listen.

The image is of cracked muddy ground that in shades of grey. Rotting berries and leaves lay in a light coating across the mud.

Black Lives Matter. Period.

As I sat down several times in the past few days to write a post, I kept finding myself with absolutely nothing to share. How does a person begin to put into words the pain that death brings? One death ripples across communities and in rare cases across the globe. The past two weeks has been filled with it. Right now I feel cracked and broken. I’ve been speechless.

When I readied my last post, I had no way of knowing on May 25 that four police officers would turn to a murderer and inactive bystanders. That the life of George Floyd would be extinguished while being recorded by multiple cameras in broad daylight. I had no idea that George Floyd’s death would ignite days of protests that would turn to looting and burning so close to my home. That my sense of community would be both tested and reinforced. That I’d feel the deep sadness of it all so profoundly.

Weeks before, I had signed up to assist on May 26 and 27 with a tree planting project on the Mississippi River designed to provide valuable research data about what tree species will help mitigate the effects of rising rivers and climate changes. I’d spend two days digging in the dirt and getting a hike or two in. Even after the first sleepless night with protests and the first rumblings of what was to come, I got up and went to the work site. It was a glorious day filled with warm sun and shared with a small group of other park lovers.

There were two of us from the neighborhood. We met for the first time discussing the previous night activity. With the hope that we’d see each other again, we headed home. I told the staff I would see them again the next day. But as the night progressed, I knew I wouldn’t be there. On my way home that day I had taken a route that would put me near Snelling and University Avenues in St. Paul. I had a sympathy card to mail and knew that the protests would make my local post office inaccessible. Little did I know as I moved through the area that the crowds were what would be the start of that night’s looting and rioting moving like a wave across the city.

As the week progressed the looting and burning got ever closer to home. Our neighborhood moved in to defense mode. Streets were blocked. Nightly patrols were taken up. Those that felt uncomfortable became watchers from porches and living rooms. It was surreal. All the while I wanted to be home. Despite many offers of safe havens outside of the city, I stayed. Leaving wasn’t an option I would consider, not even to hike. But all the while, I ached for the comfort of dirt beneath my feet.

The last two weeks I’ve been sitting deep in my white privilege. I’d just started emerging from my house to take short hikes realizing I couldn’t stay holed up in my house for the duration of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing I could retreat at any time to the safety of my home with enough food in the refrigerator and all the trappings of comfort. Not everyone has these luxuries. I know it.

As I watched night after night with my neighbors trying to keep the looters and arsonists at bay, my privilege again was laid bare again and again. I haven’t spent most of my life wondering when I’d get pulled over by a cop. I haven’t worried that my son would go out and come home beaten or worse because of the color of his skin. I’ve never wondered if I’d get evicted from my home.

I’m deeply saddened by what my friends who’s husbands are of color endure every day. Inexplicable traffic stops. Assumptions about their background and economic status. The expectations that come with navigating through a world that is defined by these things that put simply, Don’t Matter. I am heartbroken that the place I’ve called home had this evil seething through it. I’m mortified that I was oblivious to it. I moved to the city because it is a melting pot of cultures and races. I’d thought I was more woke to it all. I am not.

So I started listening. I could be criticized for saying nothing for days. What I heard most clearly was that it was not my time to speak. There was pain and heartbreak to be heard first. Most telling for me in my listening has been in my Women Who Hike community. A member recently asked our broader membership – specifically our members of color – to share their experiences on trail. The responses were honest and raw. Nearly every single one had an experience that made them feel uncomfortable, some threatened. None who commented want to hike alone. That is especially hard for me to hear. Hiking and camping solo has been one of my greatest joys. I always know it comes with inherent risk. It’s why I’ve trained and do all the things I do to be as safe as I can. Here were women who weren’t afraid just because of their gender, but because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. These are all things that they can’t put on and take off like a coat. It’s what defines our space as humans.

I knew our membership is severely lacking in people of color. This has made it even more apparent to me. I’d thought the fact that we identify as women made us equals. We’ve been working hard to be as inclusive as possible. But we have SO much work to do.

I have so much work to do.

So what’s next for me?

Listening. Because for me to help give all hikers confidence, I need to know where you are coming from. All I ask in return is your patience and a little grace. I’ve got work to do and I know I’m not going to get it right every time. I’ll fail, but I won’t stop listening and trying. I thought that hiking was enough. That camping was enough. I see clearly that it’s not. There is an intersection of environmental and social justice. These things are mutually exclusive. They support each other so I need to provide that support to both too.

I’m making subtle changes that I hope other hikers will see to let them know I’m an ally. My ears, mind and heart will be open. I’ll do my best to support you in my own ways. Whether you are a person of color or of marginalized communities, I’ll have identifiers on my gear for you.

Have a question about safe and beautiful places to hike? I’m happy to help find just the right place. or point you to resources to find your way.

Want a hiking partner? Reach out to me and if I can’t join you, I’ll point you to wonderful people who can. If you are looking for hiking group options check out my page on Links & Inspiration to Get Outside. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a start. Let me know if there are others to add.

Want tips on hiking or backpacking solo? I’ll be happy to share the steps I’ve taken to keep myself as safe as possible. Again, I can also point you to others who’s experiences are different than mine so you get a full picture. Because I am learning too.

“The only way past the pain is through it. You can’t escape it. You can’t ignore it. Pain, grief, anger, misery…they don’t go away- they just increase and compound and get worse. You have to live through them, acknowledge them. You have to give your pain it’s due.”

Jasinda Wilder, Falling into Us

As I get back out on trail, I will be doing a lot of soul searching. It’s what I’ve always gone to the trails to do. I’ve found myself on those long walks. I’ve met the most wonderful people and I’ve grown in ways I never expected. My hope that is those who are drawn to the trail will find the same.

Next Post Preview: I’ll be circling back to the time “before” when I hiked after floodwaters had receded.


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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