At precisely 4 p.m. on Friday, a self-selected bunch of 63 Kentucky women (plus two guys and one boy) set out on our first outdoorswoman event — a hike! — on this our How to Become an Outdoors Woman Weekend. It is surprisingly pleasant for late February and it smells loamy, which is, I think, a nature word.
I nearly take a tumble over the trail edge and would plummet into what I suspect is the tomblike Cumberland Valley (but later learn is just a little drop-off) when Dawn Hosch of Louisville says, ”No worries, I would have come after you,“ which is the unwritten code of the Outdoorswoman People and Lesson One of Outdoorsgirl School: They do not yet know your name, but they will come after you even if they have a weak ankle and would have had to brave a 10-degree incline.
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We are coming up on the Cumberland River, and I overhear this woman ahead of me — not my new best friend Dawn — say, ”I bet it'd be great to fish on the downriver side of that shoal.“
Wait a minute. She is talking about going fishing already? She can define which side is downriver? And what the heck is a shoal?
More importantly, what is she doing in Outdoorsgirl School?
Outdoorsgirl School Rule 2: Not all the women here need lessons.
Thing is, Downriver Shoal Fishing Woman turns out to be Tanya Seward, the first aid/survival skills instructor for the group and also a research biologist for the University of Kentucky, and I guess we would want her to know her downriver from her up.
And, yes, sometimes outdoorswomen just want to be around other outdoorswomen and, truth is, it's not all that easy to find other willing women to spend a weekend out in the outdoors talking shoals and stuff. So they congregate, sometimes at these regular Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources events, and, even if you are less sure of your love of all things out there, they surely do not mind your tagging along.
Of bugs and blow-dryers
We arrive at the falls, and the trusty park ranger explains all the geology, hydrology, botany, biology and how many minutes it takes to drown. (Good fact to know: four.) I am noticing how the quantity of spray that thing is throwing out is hydrating my skin and that the amount I spent on this weekend ($200) is already paying off in anti-aging treatments.
I am also noting that a gorgeous blonde with fabulous fingernails is standing near the railing.
”I didn't even bring a hair dryer,“ says Stacy Grimm of Louisville, clearly used to this, adding that yes, she is planning on wearing this same pair of pants all three days and she once had leeches all over her when she was canoeing the boundary waters of Minnesota and that she thinks that bugs are not the worst thing.
She loves this kind of communing with nature, and the farther into the wild she can get, the better.
Lesson No. 4: Do not judge an outdoorsgirl by her manicure.
Oh, and here's a tip: Leeches, bad.
We are so outdoorsy, the vans are waiting to drive us back to the resort park where we dine in the restaurant on Alaskan crab, something not traditionally found in the river here.
We go back to our cabins to wait until the 10 p.m. moonbow van ride to the falls, and I search the cable TV for some bass fishing because I'm trying to stay in the mood. I find a guy in a river with hippos on the Discovery Channel. I think he is starting to be eaten alive.
Lesson No. 5: The outdoors has its problems. This is reinforced by the fact that the moonbow is canceled — apparently the outdoors is not run like Disneyland — because of overcast skies.
Still, there is immense beauty and majesty and glory in the creation and design, science and age represented by a 60-foot land drop that continues to spill 3,400 cubic feet a second of the very thing that sustains us whether the moon is visible or not.
Whether we are there or not.
I stand there a long time watching it, in nothing close to silence.
Outdoorsgirl possum lore
In the van back to the resort, someone tells the ranger that she saw a possum. The ranger finds that odd. That leads to a short discussion of the fact that female possums have two uteri.
It's an outdoorsgirl fact I file away. You never know when you're going to need this stuff.
The useful life of Otis the deer
Next morning, my new best friend, Dawn, is twining round reeds around a white-tail deer antler and, with her own knife.
Dawn is dipping her reeds to keep them wet and weaving them and talking lovingly of her pet deer, Otis. Otis, she explains, is an 8-pointer. Has 71/2-inch middle-tines, which are (she says, turning to me, ”long“). His outer tines are something like 22 inches, and the width in-between is 211/2 inches.
I'm really warming up to Dawn and her love for Otis.
He was tasty, she adds.
Amy gets her gun
My choices of classes this weekend include elementary fishing and fly fishing, backpacking, bow hunting, venison prep, falconry, backpacking, archery, firearms, scoring and measuring game, and survival.
It's Saturday morning, and I'm going to guns.
On the way there, Judith Gresham of Louisville tells me that ”some of this camo gear is looking so good these days that I'm tempted to wear it under my business suit.“
Well, yes, I can see that.
Blaine Kohl, an officer in the Kentucky State Police, is our instructor. There's just four in the class, so we're going to get individualized attention. Bad news, though: We're in a classroom in a cabin. We're in a state park. Nobody will be shooting anything.
Good news: Blaine is great. Before the morning is over, he will let me SWAT team the bathroom with an unloaded shotgun and an unloaded service revolver.
Just like the police do.
Sadly, no one was doing anything criminal in there.
I digress. Blaine is Mr. Safety Man. We don't even touch the guns for the first two hours. But we do get to ask scads of questions, a lot of them even about home-safety weaponry. About where to shoot animals to kill them effectively so they may be eaten (which is the point of the exercise).
I had never so much as touched a gun before this weekend.
Now I can effectively imitate the sound a Remington 870 makes when it locks and loads. Blaine is so proud.
The trials of rustic chic
Some women are honestly doing this to spend more time with their husbands. Some of them are doing it to spite them.
Beverly ”Boo“ Shea of West Somerset is in the first category. He even took her shopping at Tractor Supply for her outdoorsgirl gear.
”My husband fishes a lot. I'd like to be able to enjoy it with him,“ she says. ”I could take a book and a rod and reel. I don't think I'd hunt with him, but at least I wouldn't hurt myself.“
JoAnn Hardison of Louisville is in the latter category.
”I've been married 34 years and have three grown sons,“ she said. ”It's time I go out and do some different stuff. My husband doesn't think I'll enjoy it. He thinks I'll come in there and grab some of his time. He thinks I can't go into that deer stand and be quiet long enough. He really enjoys that time. And I want to have a conversation about that. I know for a fact he goes up there and he goes to sleep. What would I be ruining, his sleep? I'll be the one doing the hunting, I know it.“
On a completely unrelated JoAnn note: Her husband's camo pants cost $40 retail. She paid $1 for hers at a garage sale.
Lesson No. 6: Outdoorsgirls have a lot to offer outdoorsboys.
Antler basket making and other gentle pursuits
There's a lot I could tell you now about how you cook an egg on a stick or what the chest of a red-tailed hawk feels like. I could explain that a bullet from a high-powered rifle can go four miles. That the process of making flies for fishing also can be used effectively to make earrings. That when you are taking a class called Antler Basket Making, the antlers do not weave anywhere, it's the reeds that do the weaving.
There are other things to explain. Nobody made me rip a frozen quail into pieces with my hands, though there were people there who did that (to feed their hawk). Nobody made me sleep on the ground or pee in a hole or hook a worm or identify a spruce.
Which is good. Because the outdoorsgirl life doesn't mean you have to embrace it all. But you have to understand that once you've seen a waterfall, even if you drove to it, you're going to want to see more.
So, the Last Lesson of Outsdoorsgirl School: Beware of going out there, because there are a million reasons to go back.