Becoming an Outdoors Woman

Last weekend was my outing at the Northern Illinois Becoming an Outdoors Woman program.

I had no idea it was so well attended, and mostly thanks to prior attendees' word of mouth in person or via Facebook.

I still can't figure out how I learned about it, but glad I did just in time to attend. It was a blast.

Although many more active women joined in gun safety, shotgun, kayaking, and horse riding courses I preferred to learn all I could about foraging in a moist forest environment.

Well-prepared with two different sorts of organic, non-toxic insect repellent and long sleeves, thick pants, and hiking boots, I was able to follow closely behind our fearless leader, Linda Prescott, horticulturist extraordinaire.

Friday evening's course, wild edibles, took us through the camp's...er...campus to identify and nibble on a variety of greens as we learned our ancestor's reasons for bringing these plants to this country, as well as identifying the plants' prior uses.

We took several samples of of the plants back with us to the lab so we could cook up some tasty delicacies: lambs quarters pesto on croutons, wild chervil alfredo pizza, lambs quarters cream soup, and some fresh assorted greens salad.

Friday night featured a truly lovely riverboat cruise to the sound of a very talented banjo player. I enjoyed cruising up and down a stretch of the Rock River immensely. I had been on the Mississippi river a number of times, but never had a chance to hang out on the Rock. The dinner buffet was fantastic, and we all hoped the free wine tasting to accompany our meal would be as well, but alas, we all felt it was just not our cup of tea...or er...our glass of wine. I wouldn't completely discount Haliey's Winery in Byron, however, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Saturday morning class,nature crafts, terrorized me--I hadn't realized how far removed I have become from my love of crafts, something I had nurtured every summer through high school and college. Alas, my creations (a gourd lantern, a deer antler cookie necklace, and alligator gar scale earrings) were not as creative, nor as professional looking, nad much less lovely as the other participants' creations. Although, I did come away with a renewed passion for little crafts that I can pick up sometime during the odd weekend. I have already plans to revisit the necklace and earrings and purchase some tools and supplies to help me on my way.

The Saturday afternoon class, medicinal plants, reunited a couple of us again with our fearless horticulturist leader, Linda Prescott.  We started off a different trail pathway, and identified a number of amazing medicinal properties in wild-growing plants available almost anywhere in Illinois.

Once we returned at the lab, we all slathered on our newly created salve to protect us against itching of recently acquired insect bites, and also slathered on some of our fantastic new moisturizing cream--which we personalized with lemon balm and rosehip teas to help fortify the skin-moisturizing and medicinal qualities of the cream.

Saturday night fostered some lovely conversation around the campfire, and a late stroll over to the 9 pm ice cream sundae bar. Surprisingly, someone dropped off two bottles of red wine at our table, and our conversation became that much more lively for it. However, I found out I really can't stomach Californian Malbec--only Argentina's best if you please.

Sunday morning brought me again to our horticultural leader for a lovely scamper in the forest, down some treacherous-looking gullies and dried river beds. We first searched for a rock that spoke out to us, which we could collect and bring home with us as a memento of our adventures that weekend. We also meditated, each by our selves in among the greenery for several minutes, in hopes of disconnecting from our rat races and our internal clock, and instead, building a strong connection to the trees and forest around us. Truly a lovely meditative outing, that I enjoyed so much I plan on doing this type of activity more often when I go hiking with my dog.

Ever since that outing, I've found some great  value in simplifying one's daily regimen, and really counting on one's senses to really understand what's going on around us. It's such a shame we're constricted and restricted for so many hours in the day to our plastic and artificially-lighted offices. Truly a most unnatural lifestyle.

I do hope to go again to one of these outings, as there is an autumn program scheduled each year in Southern Illinois. Similar in some ways, but also varied enough to keep the women coming back each year for more.

Amazing camaraderie, even if short lived, and great life lessons to be had if one's heart and ears are open and receptive. Cheers to more of that on a daily basis!