I heard snuffling and panting and turned around to see a large dog on the path.
He was stocky and grey and reminded me of our big cat, Rex. His face was scarred and scratched, his eyes beady: he was an old soldier and he had clearly been in more than a few battles.
My inclination was to bond with him, even though I felt fear lurking somewhere in the pit of my stomach. I offered the back of my hand; he sniffed and then stood back, making a low guttural growl in the back of his throat.
My belly clenched as I balled my fists in my jacket pocket.
Ahead on the path, a man yelled at the dog in an accent that sounded eastern-European. I could smell cigarette smoke as he approached, wearing a light jacket and jeans on a bitterly cold February day.
I was suddenly aware of being in the woods with a large dog and this man standing on the path in front of me. My heart was pounding.
I went to walk past. The man stepped out in front of me and blocked my path.
A gust of wind went through the naked branches, and they lurched and cracked above us.
And suddenly everything in me screamed run run run! I turned and fled as fast as I could in my old gumboots along the muddy path and I didn’t stop until I reached our front door.
For hours, my mind whirred. Did that actually happen? Was I really in danger? Did I imagine the wind in the trees?
He had stepped out. I did not imagine it.
My body had known something was wrong and had protected me in the only way she could. Even writing this, weeks later, my belly is knotted and clenched at the memory of it.
How many times in my life, has that voice within tried to warn me? How many times have I ignored her?
She seemed to emanate from somewhere in my body, and my body was far too turbulent to be trusted. For decades, I shunned everything emotional, instinctual and wild in me so that I could inhabit the world of reason and intellect and success.
I could not wait to leave my whenua, my land of New Zealand, to get to London – the biggest, baddest city my passport granted me access to.
But the more I achieved, the deeper I felt exhaustion and emptiness. And because these feelings could not be trusted, I took them as proof that there was something wrong with me.
I could not see the men on the path blocking my way. I was not aware of the unspoken prejudice and fear of the old guard who protected their slowly shrinking territory. It did not occur to me there was another path I could take. So I just worked harder.
It was only when I stopped trying to numb my feelings with drink and drama, that my long shunned creature-self began speaking to me again.
And her message then was also to run. To get far away from the world of glass and steel, and return my feet to the soil.
This was not quick or easy, and I would need to let go of everything I thought made me who I was. Including, for a short time, my sanity.
Eventually, I ran toward work that is fulfilling and healing. I found solace and joy in being connected to the seasons, and I felt myself expand every time I walked in the woods.
We are told from childhood that the world holds terrors for women.
We have to be careful.
We cannot trust our bodies.
We do not belong in boardrooms.
We are not safe in wild places.
Well, fuck that.
I went back to the woods today.
I imagined you all walking beside me. I felt my mother, my grandmothers behind me, and theirs behind them.
We ran together, with mud between our toes, and feathers in our hair and we screamed at the top of our lungs.
Above us, the trees lurched and cracked in applause.
This blog post is my contribution to ‘Voices Rising‘.
This ebook contains almost 100 pages of stories, poetry, art and prayers,
to inspire you to find, trust in and use your voice.