She is a Mountain

Highlighting unique perspectives is part of my desire for this blog. Ashley Walters is my cousin. I asked her to do a post because I genuinely believe that her experiences and ability to tell stories are enlightening. ENJOY!

How Hiking changed my mind, and my narrative

Ashley Walters 
Photos: Ashley Davenport

It almost sounds laughably cliche but I often think of the first time I chose to trek out into the Sonoran desert to find the bits of myself that’d been lost to the sedulus bustle of modern civilization. It goes without saying that in this day and age it is so easy to become subservient to things that never served us in the first place. I was desperate, clambering for my moment of reverie amongst the disquietude. As a kid my abuela would console me in moments like this, she’d say,  “Hija sal afuera y toma un poco de aire”. Go outside, and get some air. In my adult life I’d become so programmed into my obligations that I’d set aside such simple but effective advice.  

That’s when the realization came over me almost like a spiritual purge,the desert.I’ve lived in the Sonoran Desert most of my youth and all of my adult life, and while Arizona is the only state with all four North American deserts it’s easy to see a saguaro or palo verde and scoff. I realized though, that becoming more familiar with the gorgeous landscapes of the place I call home would not only be opportunistic for my physical health, but my mental as well. So I did thething. I started hiking. 

I should preface this next bit by saying that I have always been a lover of the outdoors, but like many people the initial prospect of heaving up a mountain in sometimes less than pleasant temperatures seemed somewhat ludacris. But as the late Maya Angelou proclaimed, “I am woman, phenomenally ”- so I opted started taking myself and my hiking seriously. 

From trekking up our locally loved but equally exigent Tumomock Hill, to navigating the challenging but picturesque trails among the Santa Catalina Mountains I found myself feeling something that hadn’t been a part of my emotional lexicon for sometime; it was triumph. Funny enough, I’d been reading about how at the turn of the 20th century hiking for pleasure was a relatively new concept. America was largely rural until the mid-1800s, and most people lived near open fields and forests. Walking and nature were a part of daily life. With increasing industrialization during the 19th century, however, a walk in the woods would become a luxury for many people(believe it or not), and it wasn’t until the end of that century that hiking was recognized as a recreational activity. At the same time I was exploring the notion of femininity and the natural world. I have always been very much interested in how femininity is intertwined with the elements of the natural world, human connection and creativity. It was a sudden insatiable need to not only challenge myself physically but intellectually. 

This whole venture got me to do something that was at the time, very much out of character. I started a female focused hiking collective dubbed ‘Mountain Mamas’ in hopes of connecting women from all walks of life in the Tucson, Marana, and Phoenix area who wanted to try something they maybe had never done before in a safe judgement free zone or get back into something they once enjoyed. I find myself connecting with people constantly who want to be immersed in the natural world without the pressure of ‘Bear Grylls’ like expertise. The group was founded on the idea that hiking, exploring and connecting with people- specifically women in your area is far more accessible and less anxiety inducing than one might imagine. While physical fitness is one of the obvious results of living an active lifestyle, it isn’t the focus entirely for the group. I am shocked at how personal the conversations during these group hikes have become. Everything from grief, raising kids, race, relationships and identity gets discussed. Therein, the feeling of bonding with other humans and being surrounded by the picturesque mountain ranges provides something very unique.  The dialogue, laughs, and personal stories that are shared really take center stage which is feels pretty great considering I started this mission on my own seeking tofind myself and feel something; turns out I found a small community along the way. 

Andres PortelaComment