As a woman who has found both bliss and grief in solitary desert adventures, I was immediately drawn to this essay collection. Here, as I had hoped, are women who understand that experience and know its value. What Susan Fox Rogers has also given us is a broad range of such women, revealing the many reasons one might choose such exposure to risk, and the varied responses to it.
For some women, such as Susan Marsh, this was a brief and impulsive choice. She simply spent a long evening finding her way alone through the Mojave back to her group and her campsite. Yet it was enough for her to find a revelation of consciousness, "a spontaneous mix of inner peace and sensory alacrity" that she hadn't known before.
E.A. Miller's family stories and expectations both motivated and inhibited her. She carefully planned her first solo weekend in the Adirondacks to be a trip without any history, personal or otherwise. With her dog along (which to my mind is not quite a solo), there was no drama, no danger, and she was never afraid. Nonetheless, she was without human company, and at a loss when trying to have her own experience, one unfiltered by the perceptions of others. It took half the trip to stop reviewing it, to simply be present.
For me, walking in solitude through the ancient and bare landscapes of the Southwest, carrying all that I need on my back, has always been a spiritual and creative quest. At first, it was a conquering of fear. Later, it became a renewal. Retreats into solitude left me with more to give to others. For each woman in this grouping, there is a motivation that is uniquely her own, and yet something that we can all recognize.
Lucy Jane Bledsoe, confident after many solo trips, describes the real danger of being a woman alone. When she encounters men on the trail, her intuitive fear feels familiar. Yet the man who has trekked miles to be solitary in the landscape is not likely looking for a victim. And when I have been stuck some way and really needed assistance, such men have been unfailingly kind and helpful. Still, like Bledsoe, I'm cautious. In my life, as in the lives of most women, there are those men and those moments when fear is justified.
Beyond that ancient female vulnerability, perhaps the hardest thing is to be alone with our own thoughts and feelings. As many of these writers know, modern culture makes sitting quietly with ourselves unfamiliar at best, and it can be terrifically uncomfortable. The stories in Solo demonstrate that solitude can bring a woman back to her center, where she can discover great strength and confidence. Each writer here reveals something of the inner workings of meeting her fears and finding her way, and each adventure is compelling.
Rogers has done a fine job of editing this group of 25 writers, bringing them together around the reasons they chose solitude, yet letting their individual voices ring true. The stories are fresh and declare the social change that has taken women from the relative security of homefires to the surprising bliss of solitary campfires. They remind me that it's about time to get out there again, unfettered and awake, in the wild world.
The editor of ten book anthologies, and a traveling woman who has been all across the globe, Susan Fox Rogers writes about her adventures and encourages other women to have their own moments in the wild, and to write about them. She is an associate professor at Bard College and writes a terrific blog.
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