Yes, They Are Girls

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Dorothy or William Wordsworth

If you have never heard of Dorothy Wordsworth it is probably because you have not read any of her unpublished journals or poems. But you likely are familiar with that famous poem I have quoted above, which is attributed to her brother William, believed by many to be England’s finest poet. It was published two years after Dorothy wrote it in The Grasmere Journal, in which she describes the walk she had taken with her brother near Glencoyne Bay. There is no reason to believe that Dorothy objected to William publishing her work as his own. As a woman she had no hope of publishing any of her own work, and they remained close until her death, often taking walks together, fueling the creative spirit of both poets.

Dorothy was an adventurer during a time when such behavior was frowned upon in women. She was the first woman to scale Scafell Pike, the tallest peak in England. She was fond of taking walks in the moonlight, a habit that drew unrelenting letters of disapproval from her grandmother and aunt, who warned her that such a practice would harm her reputation and cause her to be unsuitable as marriage material. I cannot help but wonder if this was the motivation for those moonlight walks, for she never married and continued her brave forays to mountain tops well into her elder years.*

I was born more than a century after Dorothy Wordsworth lived, but the women’s movement was barely in its infancy when I graduated from college. It was still unusual for women to go wandering alone on backcountry trails. No one ever advised me that I would compromise my reputation by doing so, but I assure you, it would not have mattered. I hiked alone for many years before I met another solitary woman hiker. (See Go into the Wilderness Alone, February 21st of 2021).

In my family gender roles were traditional, as they were for most families in the 1950’s. Both of my parents worked, my mother as a teacher, giving her summers off for the camping trips we all enjoyed. She did the cooking and cleaning. My father did the yard work, tending a large vegetable garden from which we harvested abundant crops each year.

On camping trips gender roles were more equitable. My mother was a great camp cook but also helped bring in firewood and tended the fire when necessary. My father made the coffee in the percolator every morning and flipped the huckleberry pancakes, taking great care as he waited for the oil to sizzle in the pan, just the right moment to add the batter. I learned to cook over a fire from both of my parents and to gather firewood and build up the flames. None of this seemed like a gender role. These were simply useful skills. It was not until many years later that I learned that a woman hiking alone was something rare.

The summer after I graduated from high school, my friend Kathy and I hiked the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. We had been on the trail for seven days without a shower, wearing the same dusty shorts and sweaty T-shirts, when we came down from the beautiful high country towards Sunrise Visitors’ Center, where the crowd of tourists was headed up the paved trail as we hiked down it. We passed a man and his young son, and as we did so the little boy turned to his father and asked, “Daddy, are those girls?” Kathy and I stopped and looked at each other and laughed. We laughed really hard. We were good at that. We were young and strong, and yes. . . we were girls.

I wonder about Dorothy Wordsworth as she walked along the moonlit trail, if she shook her fist at a world that stole her creative works and criticized her adventurous spirit. I think not. It must have been enough just to walk in the moonlight.

*Since this post in part about misattribution it seems important that I share my source for the story about Dorothy. I am grateful to Kathryn Aalto for enlightening me on the subject of women nature writers in her book Writing Wild.

Published by Colleen Drake

Colleen Drake (AKA Teacup) has over sixty years of hiking exerience (yes, I'm really old) and has seen some pretty big changes over those many years. Join her on the Solitude Trail & share some of these adventures while exploring with her the value of solitude in the wilderness.

One thought on “Yes, They Are Girls

  1. I do like that Dorothy Wordsworth. I understand her. Marriage would have cramped her style. ❤️Jan

    Sent from my iPhone



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