Finding Wild Women

words and illustrations by Mary Emily Butt

When I moved to Portland a couple years ago, I expected to fall into the same kind of crowd I was a part of in Tennessee. In Chattanooga—my hometown—there are a lot of trail runners, hiker trash, dirt bags and river rats that truly love and connect with the heart of nature. I felt like I looked everywhere my first year in Portland for a welcoming group to explore with, but I still came up empty. Needless to say, some intense homesickness ensued. I was left asking myself why many people I met didn’t look at the woods as an accessible playground. Often when I tried speaking to a few of my new friends about trail running, I was unanimously voted insane.

illustration by Mary Emily Butt

illustration by Mary Emily Butt

What I’m trying to say is, I wasn’t prepared for the radical belonging I would experience in the Wy’east Sisterhood. When a friend and I showed up for the first time this January, my guess was that maybe I would get to know some other female trail runners and get a good workout in. I didn’t know I was in for such a safe space to push myself. I didn’t know that showing up that Monday would mean that I would wake up before sunrise most Fridays afterwards. I certainly didn’t guess that it would propel me to sign up for my first marathon. And I definitely didn’t predict that I would end up crying happy tears while barreling down a trail at Coyote Wall with that group of women a couple months later.

I am what you would call the “stereotypical tender-heart.” I have cried at the end of every race I’ve run, countless pet adoption videos, and most of the commercials on during the Olympics. So, my tears last Saturday were not a surprise, but they were important. I suppose I could have been crying because we were FINALLY going downhill, but I think it actually had to do with watching a group of women being perfectly free in the wilderness. Seeing these ladies who I have just started to know run through the sun and wildflowers with the river as their backdrop was extraordinary.

illustration by Mary Emily Butt

illustration by Mary Emily Butt

I decided to split from the long run earlier than I planned on Saturday and I paused on my way back to the car to watch the group disappear over one of many hills they were climbing for the second time. I thought to myself, “these are strong, beautiful women and I am one of them.”

It is hard to be a wild woman who moves through this world with strength and joy. It is even more challenging to try to do so alone. The Sisterhood has given me something I have lacked for a long time—a sense of belonging. This group is not made up of superhumans, but they are accomplishing superhuman things while inviting and inspiring others to join them. I am so honored to get to be a part of that mission even if that means bringing up the rear during most runs and answering questions about my roller-skating hobby every week.

Sarah Foote