Wilderness Heals

Thank you for visiting the Wilderness Heals blog. Wilderness Heals is an all-women, three-day annual pledge hike that benefits the Elizabeth Stone House (ESH), a Boston-based emergency shelter, transitional housing program, and therapeutic community that provides services to women and children who are escaping violence and overcoming trauma. By encouraging hikers to set challenging physical, emotional, and financial goals, Wilderness Heals mirrors the experiences of hundreds of women who have sought help from the Stone House. Committing to hike is a way to grow personally while simultaneously standing in solidarity with women of the Stone House and women everywhere who are working to overcome the effects of violence in their lives.
Wilderness Heals 2011 will take place July 15-17, 2011. Registration materials may be downloaded here.
Go here to view the 2011 routes, and visit our Who's Who page to meet this year's team leaders and Recruitment Committee members.
Want to learn more? Visit our list of Frequently Asked Questions.
Still have questions? Contact Erika Whyte, Wilderness Heals event coordinator, at 781-726-0551 or ewhyte@elizabethstone.org.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

My First Wilderness Heals Hike, and How It Healed Me

I moved to Boston in January of 2005, four months after my grandmother passed away. My grandma was an extraordinary person, and for nearly 25 years, she was an integral part of my life. While her death came as no surprise, it was nonetheless devastating.

Shortly after coming to Boston, I spotted an ad for Wilderness Heals in a local newspaper. Being new to the area (I’m originally from Ohio), I registered for the event in the hopes that I would make a few friends while doing something I enjoy and helping raise money for the Stone House. At the time, I never dreamed that Wilderness Heals would turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Not only would I make dear friends and learn to reach deep inside myself for strength I didn’t know I had, but the peacefulness I encountered at the top of each mountain I climbed allowed me to gradually come to terms with my grandmother’s death.

The following letter was written on the first night of my first Wilderness Heals three-day hike. Earlier that day, my team and I had climbed up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to the Lakes of the Clouds hut. After dinner, when I went outside to write a summary about the day in my journal, I found myself writing to Grandma instead.

June 24, 2005

Grandma, I feel you near me. I am as close to the heavens as I’ve ever been. The wind is whistling through the grass on the side of this mountain…it is so beautiful, Grandma. I can see for miles, and all I hear is the wind—swooping, roaring, strong but warm. It is a perfect day—sunny, but not unbearably hot. The mountains extend for what seems like an eternity. Behind me is the rocky peak of Mount Monroe. We will climb it first thing tomorrow morning. To the right of me is Mount Washington, its summit brown and bare. And directly in front of me, the mountains fade to green, then blue, then gray, until they finally disappear altogether.

I miss you. I think about the photo albums I will compile when this trip is over, and I want to show them to you. I want to mail you a postcard for each day that I’m here. You never saw these mountains, but perhaps you can see them now, through my eyes. I wish you could feel the wind—it’s so pure. And the rocks—whoever knew that boulders could be so beautiful?

Jenn just joined me. She’s sitting a few rocks away, a rosary clasped between her fingers. We spoke a few words, but at this moment, conversation is not necessary. We are both content to simply sit and reflect upon the beauty surrounding us.

The sun is beginning to set, casting shadows across the valley. A haze has settled over us, and the mountains look as translucent as watercolors—except for the mountains to the left of Washington. Their ridges are sharp against the sky, like a cardboard cutout.

My life has changed so much since you left. Sometimes I barely recognize it. For the first time in nearly three years, I feel as if I’m actually living my life instead of watching it pass by. The sun is setting quickly. Since Jenn joined me, it has gone from being a white sphere blazing high above the mountains to a huge magenta circle hovering just above the horizon. Now it has all but disappeared. And so it is twilight. Twilight…the time that you, Grandpa, and I would sit on the back porch and tell stories while you drank your coffee and Grandpa smoked his cigarettes. The backyard in Fulton had no mountains—no waterfalls or lakes or giant boulders—and yet it evoked the same sense of peace that I feel now. Years from today, if someone asks me to name a place where I feel safe—a place that I love—I know that I will think of your home in Fulton. The love that you and Grandpa had for me has carried me through so much. I still believe that it was the two of you who made it possible for me to move to Boston. It was your faith in me that gave me the confidence to get the job at BU. And it is for you, Grandma, that I am doing this hike.

They call it Wilderness Heals, and indeed it does. Being here tonight and gazing at the mountains, I think of you, and I know how incredibly proud of me you would be. Did you ever think that your only grandchild could scale a mountain as steep as this one—while carrying nearly 30 pounds on her back? I never imagined that I could do this—any of this! In less than two months, I have learned to hike with a pack. I have climbed some of the most rugged terrain in the United States. I have embraced—and allowed myself to be embraced—by an amazing community of women. I have been terrified atop Cannon Mountain. I have tumbled across ice and rocks, so petrified that my knees could do nothing but shake. I have led a team up a mountain, and I have doggedly followed that same team down, and it was okay that I was last. And tonight I sit on this mountainside, in this beautiful place where the wind dries my tears and the earth and sky heal my heart. Oh Grandma, if you could see me now, you would see how much I’ve changed in the nine months since you left, and I think you would like who I’ve become.

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