I’m on a mission. On a mission to read some great books. There’s nothing I love more than spending a Summer’s day at the beach, buried in my book. I bought this book a few weeks ago and after finally having the time to read and reflect on this little treasure, I just had to share with you some of my thoughts.
Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis is a beautiful memoir that explores the delicate connection between nature, healing, growth and self acceptance and development. On her second night at college she is raped. She then decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail, from Mexico to Canada. This book is not about rape or being a victim. It’s about being a survivor, not only through sexual abuse and self acceptance, but literally surviving the American wilderness.
As a young woman just trying to survive university and the struggles of everyday life, reading Aspen’s personal, emotional and brave story of her overcoming such things is not just inspiring but deeply motivating in my pursuit of happiness, travel, connection and love. I am extremely passionate about the educational and healing power of travel and I feel that this book beautifully illustrates this.
But it’s not all sad and serious. I don’t think she intended it to be this way at all. Of course what happened is horrific and you can’t write a memoir without including such a life altering event. But I think the real life changing event for me reading this book, was how she grew, learnt, changed and accepted herself over 2 650miles from Mexico to Canada.
So here are some of the things that I’ve taken away from such an engaging book.
(There are a few spoilers ahead, but I haven’t given anything away yet).
No means no
If it doesn’t feel right, it’s OK to say no. Saying no doesn’t make you uptight or frigid. It simply means that right now, in this moment, you are not consenting to have sex with someone. It also doesn’t mean you don’t like or love that person. But how that person responds to you saying no, will definitely say a lot about how they truly feel about you.
Speak to be heard, not just listened to
Aspen wrote this book with purpose. She later spoke at her college where she was raped and by her speaking up about what happened, a woman in the audience felt empowered to do the same. If we have something to say, we deserve to be heard, not just listened to and marginally acknowledged. When her parents choose not to acknowledge her rape, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. The only people she’s ever been dependent on her whole life had let her down. It is not only up to us to speak out, but for the people we’re talking to, to do something about it. Her way of speaking about it was through her journals. By doing this she was able to write about her thoughts and emotions but also contemplate them and grow. This also reflects society and the urgent need to know how to help someone who needs it.
Nature is dangerous and it may try to kill you, but it is beautiful
Aspen writes about survival. This trail is not just a pleasant hike you go on to tick off your bucket list. You need to have the deepest motivation and commitment to the trail and yourself. There are few incidences where she is short of death, but as the saying goes… what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Not only does she survive off of the land and care packages her Mum sends her, but also rape. She writes ‘the trail had shown me how to change.’
Life has a funny way of working itself out
She meets her husband on the Pacific Coast Trail. When she finishes and they are catching a ride back to civilisation, she admits that she could of taken another path in life. One that involved her finishing her studies, living out her life as a high school teacher and being mediocrely happy. The path of the Pacific Coast Trail started with her rape, but it ended in her becoming Aspen Matis. She fell in love, she learnt how to survive by herself, and ultimately the Pacific Coast Trail served as nature’s way of healing her body, mind and heart.
Overall, I felt like I was walking the PCT with Aspen. With every page I could feel the miles she walked that day. It’s a difficult book to read because there are such personal reflections, but I think it’s what we need. In order to offer help to others and allow others to seek help, we need to be educated about what to do in situations like this. To empower women to stand up for themselves and teach men not to rape. This book is extremely captivating and I thank the author, Aspen Matis for sharing such a beautifully personal experience.