by Jackie McCall | January 9, 2016
We all have our inner wild. Living wild means being true to yourself, your best self, the strong and beautiful creature you were meant to be. For some, it’s already integrated into being. For others, it’s buried under layers of life or choices made. For me, it’s standing on the edge of change, ready to jump. For all women, becoming wild is an intensely personal journey.
The inaugural Women on Water weekend was an opportunity to explore beneath the layers in a safe and supportive setting. 80 women gathered in Parry Sound, Ontario to spend a weekend developing paddling skills in canoe, kayak or on stand-up-paddle boards. There was also an opportunity to take part in yoga and other classes. Amazingly, no experience was needed, presenting a real challenge for our world-class instructors.
First, the Friday evening arrival: dozens of women from everywhere congregated in a wonderful rainbow of female energy. Friends new and old, mothers and daughters, groups and singles came together to share their lives and to open themselves up to new experiences. Many smiles and hellos, and underneath, some nervousness and anticipation; will this be hard? Can I do this? What if I can’t? Do I need more experience?
The next excitement was sleeping in cabins with bunk beds. For some, this brought back memories of summer camp; for me, a new experience, meeting roommates and finding things in common. We had some good laughs joking about middle–aged ladies trying to negotiate out of the top bunks to get to the bathroom in the night. It was eye-opening to hear so many women sharing their experiences and backgrounds, talking and sharing. For me, pondering a life-changing decision to leave my safe job and try making a living as a writer and poet, many fears and doubts lurked in my layers beneath the surface. Can I do it? Am I crazy? What if I fail? Do I have enough money? And what if I get sick or die young? The memory of my dear friend Ann is fresh. The questions and fears that hold us back were on my mind as sleep entered the cabin.
All my inner voices were stilled during an early morning paddle. The sun rose over the surrounding hills to lift the mist away from its drift across the water. It had been a while since my last time in a kayak, and the muscles both protested and sang as the paddle quietly dipped and the craft glided through the water. It was wonderful to see the brightly coloured kayaks in a group, the women quiet, soaking up the scenery: Precambrian Shield rock glowing pink in the early light, with fish making their jumping circles and small turtles surfacing here and there, curious then scared at our intrusion.
We spent a beautiful day on the water with our amazing instructors, learning new skills or improving existing ones. I’m a hopeless canoeist – till I took a beginner’s class with the well-known Becky Mason, a true canoe maestro. With her instruction stroke basics fell into place and suddenly canoeing made more sense. Later watching Becky’s canoe-dance demonstration, I had my first experience of watching ballet between canoe and paddler. Something I will never forget.
Sunday brought some groans about aching muscles but fears had definitely been faced and conquered, and we were game for more. We had all learned to better use our bodies, especially our cores, to improve our paddling. Sunday was a gray day with the promise of rain, but it didn’t matter.
Kayak rescues were scary, no question, but after demonstrations by our instructors, and under their watchful eyes and ready help, we felt safe and bold enough to try. Willingly turning your kayak and your body upside down and escaping then partnering to help each other back into kayaks was a huge leap of faith,ultimately empowering for the whole group. Our whoops of success resounded throughout the shallow bay.
Perhaps my favourite part in a weekend full of them was our closing circle out on the grass. Hearing women express their gratitude and love was emotionally powerful, and I felt a sudden longing for my daughter, living far away. But looking at the other mothers and daughters, I had the happy thought that we could do a Wild Women trip together in the future.
I left among a flurry of hugs and see-you-soons, and drove home in the rain, thinking. Can I make changes in my life? Yes! Am I still afraid? Yes! But that’s ok, it’s part of the journey. I know now that can rescue myself and even others. I’m becoming wild.
For more on the weekend that inspired this essay, click here.