After admiring my new Bergans backpack for several weeks and daydreaming about a grand solo trip, I gave up and used it for work. Its maiden voyage was an unglamorous sweaty hike up the Cathedral Pass trail with a load of blasting gear. So far the only thing I do not like about it is the name: “Trollhetta Lady”.
It’s a good thing to design a pack to fit a woman’s anatomy. I appreciate it. But I suppose it says a lot about me that I bristle at the word “lady”. A lady is someone other than me. I looked up the definition, and the primary one is a “woman of refinement and gentility”. It can also mean any female. Consider my formative years: in the mid-1960s, some women still put on a hat and gloves to go to town. My Gramma Davis, for example. She never learned to drive a car. There was code of proper behavior for grown-up ladies. As a little girl I was mostly exempt from this, but I could clearly see my fate. Luckily for me, it was a time of social upheaval, and by the time I hit adolescence the women’s movement was in full swing. I had my consciousness raised in eighth grade by my best friend who had older sisters and a progressive single mom. Our generation was free to be any kind of women we wanted to be. Ladyhood and the constriction of having to climb into a girdle and hose was not on our horizon. Refinement and gentility were optional, and still are.
I don’t think it’s especially ladylike to run around in the woods swinging axes and blowing up stumps. Or wiping my nose on my sleeve and sitting in the dirt to eat lunch. Gender doesn’t concern me much at all these days. I’m comfortable in my own skin, which happens to be feminine, and I’m grateful to live a life where I mostly get to do work I care about. Things have changed a lot since I was a kid, and I know I am standing on the shoulders of giants–those pioneering women a few years older than me who endured harassment and ridicule when they went to work in the woods. They cleared the way for me and the young women who are coming along now. Maybe not ladies, but full of dignity and fortitude.
So that’s what I was thinking about as I carried my new red pack down the trail past Squaw Lake a couple days ago (another uncomfortable word). Clouds were coming over the crest, pushed by moist marine air. When they hit the warmer drier air on the east side of the mountains, they started melting and dissipating. I could smell the scents of red heather and yellow cedar, their essences released by the sun. Mosquitoes buzzed around, and dragonflies hunted above the rushes along the lake edge.
Words! They’re such tricky things, dependent on context. Words carry emotional and cultural freight, like anything else we humans invent. If I could remove the embroidered word “Lady” from my backpack, I probably would. But in the end it just doesn’t matter that much. In the mountains on a summer day, my feminist manifesto shrinks in importance compared to the experience I am having right now.