Dear Natalie, What is this? And why?

Ask Natalie Banner

By Natalie McCarthy

Dear you,

It’s a move to a written format.

This new format is not limited by letters, questions, fears, worries, or problems; rather, it is expanded by them.

Let me explain.

You might remember how, for a while, I had the honor of answering questions through an advice column called “Ask Natalie.” I fielded letters about back-country ethics and front-country relationships, and every so often, I’d be delighted to receive a follow-up comment or two. When Nicole [Camping for Women] asked me if I’d like to make the column into a video series, I was nervous, but delighted, but so totally nervous. I have always been more motivated by fear of regret than plain ol’ fear, so I agreed, and off we went into the jungle of YouTube.

For a few wild and wonderful months, I was filmed answering the letters I received, and I got to read entertaining and kind comments from those who viewed each episode. As an advice columnist, I was having a ball responding to what was being said.

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However, as someone who chose psychotherapy as a profession, I’ve always been keen on listening to what isn’t said. Often, we don’t talk about our most important questions, our strongest fears, or our most fervent dreams. We carry them in us, but for a thousand different reasons, they never make their way into words. I was reminded of this when the inevitable happened: Natalie the advice columnist ceased to receive regular requests for advice. At face value, I thought this was a lovely thing. I figured it meant that readers of the column were calm and content. Upon further thought, though, I wondered: What isn’t getting asked?

And so here we are. Each month, I will ask the questions, and I will answer them. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s exactly what we all do day-in and day-out: We have experiences, and internally, we run a dialog with ourselves. This happens even more often when we are adventuring and having new experiences. “What’s that?” we ask ourselves when we see something we’ve never seen before.  “Wonder what’s going on there,” we’ll internally murmur when we glimpse a tense interaction between strangers speaking a language we do not understand. “Why is this happening?” we’ll silently wail when we face hardship on a hiking trail. We don’t often speak these questions aloud, of course, but we pose them to ourselves.

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In this new version of “Ask Natalie,” I will speak those questions aloud – almost like a journal entry – where you can read them and, I hope, respond to them.

Your participation is what turns a silent musing into a true dialog. My hope is that I will open the door to some of the experiences we have as adventuring women, and you will walk through it with your own perspective and knowledge. I want to feature your written comments, video responses, and audio recorded thoughts. All of these forms of feedback are welcomed in the new “Ask Natalie,” and in that sense, you are as much an author of this new column as I am. (And for what it’s worth, if you ever do have a problem you’d like some advice on – we can still do that here!)

If I can be super candid with you all, I have to say, I’m very excited about this new direction. I’m excited for you to be even more involved with “Ask Natalie,” and I’m excited that as a journal of sorts, we can feature all sorts of media. I’m excited that I won’t feel as compelled to have makeup on when I send Nicole my contribution to the column! Mostly, I’m excited that we can create a little place where we shine light on those corners of our experience that aren’t covered in the outdoors and travel magazines.

We can talk about what it is like to be women facing new adventures and growing because of them.

Thank you for coming along with me on this new journey!

Natalie

 

 

 

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Man, Woman, Mountain.

Man Woman Mountain 1

By Emily Pennington

“The surest way to mend a broken heart is through a forest wilderness.”
-John Muir

 

On really confusing evenings of self, I like to drink beer and make up quotations that John Muir definitely did not write. I summon him like my own, personal break-up Yoda the moment a man threatens to rip the sticky, sensitive tissue of my heart to shreds. I need this. A stubborn, fantasy-ridden reminder that things can still be beautiful, even when they do not turn out as I’d hoped. Though very much dead, Muir offers surprisingly warm company, a wild-eyed mountain guru who will hold my hand through the thick fog of being a suddenly single outdoorswoman.

 

On a chilly Friday in November, following a particularly gut-shattering break-up, I got my dates screwed up and realized that my friends were climbing Mount Baldy the following week. I thought it was tomorrow. I stared at the vacuous, blue light emanating from my iPhone as I wondered whether or not I should still set my alarm and attempt the 11-mile summit. On one hand, I had nothing else to do with my Saturday now that my partner was gone. On the other, my heavy heart had plummeted into the very pit of my stomach where anxiety gestates, and the thought of hiking to 10,000 feet alone and in high winds made me shiver. “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” whispered my ghostly sidekick. I fist-bumped the air above my bed, set my alarm, and rolled over to get some rest.

 

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The following morning on the trail, I found my mind sluggish and distracted, wind kissing my cheeks with sharp sprays of cold air that turned my face a bright pink. My thoughts wandered. I didn’t often hike at high altitude alone. I set one foot in front of the other, just like I had done a thousand times before, and put my head down. It became a moving meditation as my brain began to massage the precise details of the breakup into something resembling a lesson.

 

“Had I asked for too much?” “Was my sensitivity too erratic?” “Could I have better shape-shifted into a form that fit the relationship?” I traversed the alpine landscape as my mind roamed through the rocky debris of my heartache. The sound of gravel beneath my rubber soles bit into the air with a familiar crunch. My lungs burned, and the tips of my fingers went numb from the cold. As the massive hump of Mt. Baldy’s east face came into view, I began to feel solid. Alone, but strong.

 

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This was the moment my mind snapped fully into philosophical reverie. I wondered why I fancied malleability such a desirable trait in myself. It left me exhausted and resentful when partners could not follow suit. After all, what was there to change into anyways? I was already a dancer, a yogi, a mountain climber, a college graduate, a political activist, and a road trip sing along master. I read the news as well as the entire Game of Thrones series. I was everything I strived to be. Why was I depleting myself in frantic attempts to keep partners who failed to proffer the same effort?

 

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“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” I thought of John Muir’s apparition high fiving me as I rounded the top of the summit mound. It felt blissful to have soloed the massive peak alone and at my own pace. There was no one to impress but myself. I let out a deep sigh as the wind painted my arms with goose bumps. I was tugging at the thread of this break-up and finding it hitched to the universe of how I approached life itself. Perhaps my 20s had all been a vain attempt at searching for the best thing, the biggest job, or the most compatible partner. I began to feel like I had it all wrong.

 

Maybe the real journey is to give up the hope of better things on the horizon so that we can follow our gut and truly embrace all the good and badassery that we have in the present. I felt it on that summit, the need to hold fast to my strength and my self-respect so that I would not allow another love to topple my ego. “I am a goddamn mountaineer,” I thought. “It’s time to start calling my own shots.” And, with that, I took off down the mountain, feeling more free than I had in a long while, the halo of Johnny Muir’s phantom trailing behind me like a superhero’s cape.

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