Last weekend I went backpacking along the Superior Hiking Trail north of Duluth with six other girls and two golden dogs. It was damp and green, with fog pooling thickly in all the valleys so that it was like hiking inside a cloud. I scared up deer and garter snakes along the trail, and we camped and rock-scrambled by churning rivers and placid lakes and puddles of Canada dogwood. Saturday was the summer solstice, which I celebrated by diving head-first into Bear Lake and then shrieking at the cold.
Along the trail, we met first a group of six older ladies, probably in their seventies, white-haired and rambunctious and jovial; and later a group of seven middle-aged women, our moms’ age, who camped by Bear Lake with us, and shared their salmon and couscous concoction while we shared our flasks of bourbon. Three groups of women – ours of twenty-somethings, the fifty-somethings, the seventy-somethings – hiking along winding trails, sharing food and filtering water for each other and leaning together on lengths of rope to hang our bear bags. The juxtaposition of three generations of female friendship made me think a lot about the delight of female friendship in general: its importance, its vitality, its longevity.
As many of you know, I don’t have any sisters, just a really fantastic brother (who still occasionally gives me fashion advice and is down for things like making margaritas and music videos.) So I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with females who live in your house and share your genes and borrow your clothes and go to school with you and compete with you for shotgun in the car. I like to think, however, I’ve gotten my version of sisterhood, of female connections, through a plethora of female friends. And, as many others have written about and created Tshirts and magnets and bumper stickers about, as the songs sing about and the TV shows boil down to its sweet sugary essence, these friendships are necessary and beautiful things.
I’d like to write tribute to all of them, these wild and lovely girls, with whom I share a physical and mental and emotional comfort, so that every story is fair game and embarrassment does not exist. In a way, I think of the whole crew, whether or not they all know each other, as family – a broad, diverse, whiskey-drinking, skinny-dipping, story-sharing, tree-climbing family. I could show up on any of their doorsteps unannounced and be greeted with a shriek and a hug and a cold beer. And these are my sisters. I am so lucky, and these are my sisters.
And I can’t write about all of them: I know once I start, I’ll want to tell every story, because there are some damn good anecdotes and adventures. But in brief, the ones I’ve hung onto:
There are the ones I grew up with, probably really the closest ones to sisters, the ones whose parents’ houses I know like my own, whose families are my families, whose dollhouses were my dollhouses, the ones I jumped off Lake Michigan dunes with and shared with the most awkward of high school boy anecdotes, the ones I could recite the life history of like a poem I know by heart. There are the ones from high school and college, the ones there for the first times I got drunk, the house parties and the dance performances, the ones I lived down carpeted dorm hallways from and shared old Ann Arbor houses with, the ones I did chem and stats homework with and went to shows with and paddled around the biostation with and made forts with in living rooms like the ones we might have made as kids except these we drank rum inside. There are the girls from grad school, intelligent and witty and wondering along with me how exactly to be a grown-up, who I also shared old Ann Arbor houses with, who I worked in greenhouses with and walked through the Farmers Market with and drank both fancy cocktails and many PBRs with. There were the girls from New Zealand, multi-national and hardworking and cheerful and kind, who I did laundry with and cleaned bathrooms with and drank coffee with on hot patios and danced with in crowded beachside clubs. There are the girls from the island, who I lived with in the beloved Ben East, cooked with and danced with and hiked with and swam with, who transformed, in a few short summer months of dives from the dock and paddles in canoes and long VC shifts, from strangers into some of the most important people in my life. There are the girls here now, new friends, who are welcoming and outgoing and active, showing me a new city with open arms, and there are all of the ladies I’ve met in other serendipitous ways, like in Colorado or through other people I love or working at smoothie shops.
There’s no way to stamp a value on this. These are the people who I go to with fears and questions and quandaries. These are the people who have seen all of me. These are the people I want to be wandering the woods with as an old lady, sharing flasks and jokes and poop stories and tents and campfires, jumping into lakes and exploring off-trail. We’ll sit under the trees amidst memories that, like wood smoke, are dynamic and expanding and somehow present no matter where you choose to plunk yourself down. We’ll add logs and make more.
(Note on photos: I have way too many good pictures of all of you who hopefully know who you are, but I had to just quickly pick a couple or else this would be the longest post in the history of the world.)