“So like many women before and after me, I lived my life as a disguised criatura, creature. Like my kith and kin before me, I swagger-staggered in high heels, and I wore a dress and hat to church. But my fabulous tail often fell below my hemline, and my ears twitched until my hat pitched, at the very least, down over both my eyes, and sometimes clear across the room.”
-Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves
I had forgotten that the wind could tie your hair in knots. Actual salty knots, the stubborn kind that take full half-hours to untangle with a finger-rake.
It had been so long since I felt that dexterity, that willfulness, that slapping, enlivening meanness. I didn’t remember water like this, either: calm, then rugged, ever-changing, thick and vast and green as sea glass. Water was never my element, but it is becoming so.
I had wanted this trip, had planned it for myself and my husband on the last weekend I, in my fluid state, would be allowed to travel. A feminine soul requires wild release: Rhode Island, I thought. With my own storm brewing, my mind on mine and my daughter’s journey, I needed that edge of rock and cliff, needed to walk at the place where earth meets wind meets water. I craved salt and wanted to sit in the spray, to bask in the sort of fog that obscures too-knowingness. To feel what force beckons the ocean to shore; to be utterly, udderly elemental.
We booked a room in Providence then set sail on the morning’s first ferry across Narragansett Bay. An hour later, in Newport, we set out to trek that colonial town’s improbable public promenade known as the Cliff Walk: four miles of paths and trails along the shore, winding through the backyards of Gilded Era millionaire mansions.
It was hard not to look inland, not to admire the shining marble “cottages” of Vanderbilts and Astors. But what we’d come for was the sea. Strange, I thought, to walk such a linear, directed path beside the cyclical, uncontainable ocean: civility, human rules and constructions to the left and willful, natural wildness to the right. Most lives tread a similar balance. Mine tilts seaward.
Pavement yielded, at points, to bare rock dimpled with ephemeral pools like desert potholes.
Hairy vegetation, orange and green, clung to barrier islands lined with cormorants drying their wings.
Crossing a footbridge over a particular inlet, I was struck by a surprising recognition.
“It’s my birth canal!” I yelled to my husband, who is by now unembarrassable. Stunned at my own metaphor, I closed my eyes, burned the image into back-brain and muscle memory. Where I’m going I will need the sound, taste and rhythm, the perfect inevitability of the sea. I will rely, equally, on the fragile solidity of cliff, the knowledge of earth, the rigidity of Eastern coastal slickrock. From me, one small bottle of earth will slide handily, or violently, into the salty, lifey brine. To usher such a delivery I must remain rooted yet responsive, anchored yet fluid, my mind and heart attached to the holy contradictions of biological place.
I needed this walk, this wind-whipped ride. I will cling to both, in times to come.
Face-whipped and fog-blinded on the ferry, I practiced a meditation that was designed to gather feminine strength. One by one, I “invited” my life’s women onto the boat. I imagined their smiles, saw them standing and laughing in groups: aunts, cousins, sisters-in-law, mothers, artists and activists from grad school, fire mavens, rangers, girlfriends from all eras, teachers and guides, angel grandmas. My coven, glowing. Together, on the boat, in my mind, we held and beheld our fierce feminine wildness.
As women our gift is genesis. We are creatrices, those of us who are courageous enough to wade into wild waters and let them claim their piece. We hold back then succumb to the pull, knowing the tides will build and unbind us, leaving behind our greatest creations: our books, poems, gardens, systems, solutions, artworks, and children.