As a child, I attended a convent boarding school in Surrey, England. Our main building was a 19th century redbrick. It was designed as a French chateau, but ended up looking sturdy and sensibly Victorian. Our lives were run by bells, from the moment we woke up until we went to bed. Despite being operated by nuns, it was in every way patriarchal. It stifled imagination, sensuality, and stripped us of our power. We were being brought up to be pure young ladies, ––good marriage material.
We attended mass, benediction. We confessed our sins. The school, set in 700 acres, featured tiered gardens, grass tennis courts, and large fields. But there was also the woods. The wilderness. The place where we went to hide, to smoke, to walk into the local town and, acting older than our years, pool together to buy wine at the local off-license.
We made fires in the woods, cooked sausages, sat on damp leaves that smelled of dust and decay and fungus. In spring, we ran through lakes of bluebells. We told stories, feeling grown up as we sucked on our pungent Gitane cigarettes. It was in the woods that we encountered a naked man astride the branches of a tree. Because we ran in a pack, like wolves, we were unafraid. We kept going to the woods.
I know now that that woods represented the wild me. The part of me that yearned to break free from my orderly and preordained life. I needed the woods to hide in, to pull away from the glare of the nuns with their desire to control us. I needed it to crouch close to the ground. To get my feet muddy, my knees scraped. I needed to hunker down on the earth with my friends and tell stories and share secrets—to remind myself that beyond the convent walls was a world already stirring with the liberating energies of the 60’s and 70s.
I can smell the woods now––the fragrance of life rising and decaying… the soil soft, the world dark, unknowable. I am wearing a blue serge skirt and mustard yellow shirt with a gold and blue striped tie. This is my uniform. But soon I will be free. Soon the convent walls will no longer be part of my life. Soon I will be released to find my own way in the world.
The forest was—and remains—for me a place of danger and exploration. But also of joy and community. It holds my need for wildness and freedom.
Now, in a way that feels truly miraculous, I am calling a circle of women together into the redwood forests of Northern California above Santa Cruz, November 3-5. Just as we did all those years ago at school, we will circle around the campfire, share stories, secrets, root ourselves in the depths of our own wild beings–far away from the rules and regulations that hold us back. Here, we will explore what’s possible when we leave the straight path, the linear path, and breathe the wild forest air.
What part of your wild and undomesticated self do you long to honor? What chains and shames are you ready to release? It’s time to enter the forest and find out.
Will you join me for A Wild Soul Woman Retreat?