MY SHEROES #1 : AUDREY SUTHERLAND

Adventure, Parenting

 

Once per week going forward I’m going to share one of my “SHEROES”. The wisdoms of women who have shaped my thinking and hoed the path ahead of me.

One of my absolute sheroes and a woman who has had a huge impact on my attitude in the outdoors is Audrey Sutherland. As a single mother of 4 she took up solo paddling in her 60s and paddled over 8,000 miles of the Alaskan and British Columbian wilds, crossing gentle paths with bears and wolves and foraging her food as she went. I could write many things about Audrey, but I would love to share a list she wrote for her children that offers an insight into her extraordinary leadership as a mother. 

“What Every Kid Should Be Able to Do by Age Sixteen”

  • Swim 400 yards easily
  • Do dishes in a strange house, and your own
  • Cook a simple meal
  • See work to be done and do it
  • Care for tools and always put them away after use
  • Splice or put a fixture on an electric cord
  • Know basic information about five careers that suit you
  • Volunteer to work for a month in each of those fields
  • Clean a paintbrush after use
  • Change a diaper, and a tire
  • Listen to an adult talk with interest and empathy
  • Take initiative and responsibility for school work and home chores
  • Dance with any age
  • Clean a fish and dress a chicken
  • Drive a car with skill and sanity
  • Know and take responsibility for sexual conception and protection when needed
  • Know the basic five of first aid: restore breathing and heartbeat, control bleeding, dilute poisons, immobilize fractures, treat for shock
  • Write a business letter
  • Spend the family income for all bills and necessities for two months
  • Know basic auto mechanics and simple repair
  • Find your way across a strange city using public transportation
  • Be happy and comfortable alone for ten days, ten miles from the nearest other person
  • Save someone drowning using available equipment
  • Find a paying job and hold it for a month
  • Read at a tenth grade level
  • Read a topographic map and a chart
  • Know the local drug scene for yourself
  • Handle a boat safely and competently (canoe, kayak, skiff, sailboat)
  • Operate a sewing machine and mend your own clothes
  • Operate a computer as needed
  • Do your own laundry

I highly recommend her books PADDLING HAWAII, PADDLING NORTH AND PADDLING MY OWN CANOE. Or for a quick fix, READ MORE ABOUT AUDREY on the Patagonia blog HERE

CEILINGS

Philosophy

There are no ceilings. Go outside. Look up. There’s nothing between you and the stars…

It might sound like a few throwaway lines, but most quotes are the finely tuned distillation of broad wisdoms and deep revelations. There were a few key pieces of advice that were said to me before I left that meant everything to me out on the river. In the humdrum of society they sound like cliches, in context, they’re life saving and defining creeds. This was a powerful one of my own I had out on the river, and is one of the messages I’m so passionate about sharing. I thought I’d share the backstory of it to give it some context within the everyday, so it can be similarly useful.

In 2015 when the idea for the paddle came to me, there was so much razor wire around my perception of possibility and what I thought I was capable of. I didn’t fully understand just how high and thick I’d erected those barriers, but once I started cutting them away in the wild and on the water, shedding that skin of conditioning and the robes of projections of others, I came alive in ways I couldn’t believe. Walls and obstacles came crashing down, as I suddenly realised how completely mind created they were. A fish doesn’t know it’s in water, and yet, the water influences the entire existence of the fish. Humans are the same. To live our best, most fulfilled, most passionate lives, to move toward self-actualisation, we need to know what the hell is in the water. What’s influencing and controlling us, because these forces are strong, and we can be completely oblivious to them, finding ourselves easily off course.

I wrote about night number nine of my expedition in my post Shadow of Stars, and the power that overcame me that night, but there’s a prequel to that post and it was three nights earlier on night six. In the tangle of motherhood I dreamed longingly of peace and quiet, of a fire built with my hands, lying beneath the diamond canopy of the night sky. On night six of my expedition I got it. Exactly the way I had dreamed. The nature of the previous six days had been serious navigating, with very little pause for enjoyment. Without realising I had completely slipped into that reptilian brain, that place of survival where instinct and intuition reign supreme, where senses are heightened, and the civilised mind falls silent. Mentally, I had barely come up for air as I fought my way through the thick tangle and gnarled wooden forests of the river.

This night, I had an apprehension of safety, and for what felt like the first time, I could look around and take in my surroundings for enjoyment and not purely survival. When I slowly raised my eyes to the stars, I gasped, dropped my head and immediately covered my eyes. I didn’t look back at the night sky until several nights later, night number nine. The magnanimity of the universe I lay within was too beautiful to take in without my loved ones. In that moment I realised that it is possible to be too wild. I became human again, and I was completely in love with it. In that moment I learnt the meaning of balance, and that regular pattern interrupts can negate radical change.

The following three days were probably the most challenging of the whole trip. Making it safely through to the lower gorge section, through its numerous pounding waterfalls, was euphoric and enormously relieving. That night was the night, after falling asleep at sundown every evening, except for the one night the stars were too beautiful to see, that I laid beneath the night sky unafraid. Worthy. Real. Until the sapphire of the dawn began to glow over the ridge. That was the night I earned the stars. That I let the universe press down upon me, and let every star fall into me. That was the night that I truly realised there are no ceilings.

We can always go outside and look up. No matter how overwhelmed or disempowered we feel, however young or old, however lost or found, there’s nothing between us and the stars. When the myopia of civilised life and the striving to maintain status quo causes us to become caught up and consumed, the magnanimity of the universe is always on hand to remind us that for all our fiascos, we are but a speck. And that even as a collective, when viewed from across space, we are little more than a twinkle among a billion other flickering spasms of glitter. This is precisely why, in a universe of synapse, dust, matter, atom, energy, particle, when the vacuum of insignificance and futility threatens to blackhole us into oblivion, we are as stars. Wondrous, limitless, exploding potentialities. If only we could be less blinded by our own light.

SHADOW OF STARS

Adventure, Philosophy

I’m writing by my fire under the stars. Now 9 days in and through most of the wild and impenetrable part, I can finally reflect a little. The whole thing has been a gift. My family gifted me this time and trusted me with my life, and heaven has gifted me a guided safe passage. I feel so incredibly grateful. I have become attuned to the different sounds of water and what they mean, it’s speed, its power, the beauty of its dance. I have tuned in to different scents, to the deeply dormant olfactory wisdom that preserves life and warns gently of danger, to sounds and textures new to my consciousness, old to my DNA. To the infinite glamour of the night sky and to the twinkling eyes of loved ones watching and lighting the way home. One part woman, three parts the crushed glitter of a billion stars, the alpha that once frightened me, solidified in my soul.

I’d been so afraid of the dingoes before I came out. It was a power that felt too close for comfort. Now their howls echoing over and around me are my song. Never have I been more in my body and yet out here it is anything but my own. It belongs to the earth and it is behaving in the ways of a mother heavy with life. The river draws, gives, takes, sustains, I commit myself and she takes her commission. It is a tryst I hoped for but am shocked by the reality of. It’s breathtaking majesty makes me crave the compass of science as a way to explain it all, but it is the sun dial of the spirit that proffers its power. The most logical and conservative explanation I can arrive at, is the comparative mediocrity of magic.

So many times my own words have echoed in my head. The narration of dreams. All the dreaming words I was writing, they’re all becoming my realised truth. The living, breathing birthright of deeply held Pinocchio convictions, that if untrue, would have dismantled everything, rendering my perceptions crushingly wooden. A line I wrote some time ago floats by: ‘choose your words wisely; fate is a light sleeper‘. All of the things I wrote were my dreams, and now they are real. I’m real. Tonight I lay neath a blanket of fire, casting a shadow of stars.

NATURE IS A WOMAN

Womanhood

When women are in conflict is it because forces are keeping them from being who they are. Nature is completely free of the constructs and conditioning that try to dictate who we should be. Nature is a woman. Earth is a mother. When we crave wildness it is not that we need or seek something new, it is that we crave to return. To return to who we are. In the same way, we discuss the strength of women today in equality discourse as something new, almost as novelty. When the truth is we have always been strong. Even the word ’empowerment’ presupposes a provision or a permission of power, which is a nullity because it simply is. Leadership is not linear. It is spherical, holographic, nuanced, visible, and invisible. The power has always been there. The process for women today is refining the individual method and modality. The weapons of choice. Nothing can stand in the way of a determined woman. Even history in all its warped inversion cannot deny us this. We choose our stories.