Women in the Woods: What Goes on When Women Give Themselves the Freedom to Relax?
For a dozen years now, the highest settlement in the San Bernardino National Forest (7,200 ft.) becomes high holy lady ground for three boisterous spring days. Chick Cabin Weekend XII is now behind us. What began as a woodsy bachelorette party has morphed into an annual gathering of women at my family’s tiny cabin. We eat, drink, talk, bake, cry, grill, sing, read, hike, smoke and lordy ... we LAUGH.
And if your life is anything like mine, it could use more deep belly laughter. The kind that makes your body go limp as you reach for solid furniture to lean on while gasping for air. Heading down the mountain this past Sunday evening, my cheeks and abdomen felt the comedic workout. Kim, always the Master Storyteller, regaled us with hilarious tales of waxing a new boy-to-girl transexual while in training. (“Um, teacher? Can you come over here a minute? I don’t think this was in the manual ...”) And accidentally booking a vacation with her mom ... on a swinger’s cruise.
The numbers vary, but this year we had 13 women attend -- each one representing a different era of my life. Each woman is a unique character, beautiful and imperfect, hilarious and loving. Some are bossy, some are shy but all come with stocked coolers and open hearts.
Collectively, we are single, happily married and veterans of divorce. We are the mothers of 15 sons and four daughters (this year’s count). We are Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Apathetics, Christians, Buddhists, Catholics, Agnostics and Science of Mind devotees. We are writers, artists, waitresses, students, graphic designers, managers, event coordinators, firefighters, office workers, seamstresses, bakers, retired professors, marathon runners, editors and full-time moms. Some engage in protest while others carry firearms, but we all laugh and love the same. We are all little girls, too, and yes, we play dress-up ... at the CCW Clothing Exchange
The cabin itself, Chez Clisby at Green Valley Lake, has been in the family since 1958 when my parents, Bob and Iva, bought it for $9,000 as a vacation retreat. Built in 1938, the wee cabin (approx. 700 sq. ft.) includes a "master bedroom" so small that your first step in the room lands on the bed itself.
No phone or television, but one can browse vintage magazines such as LIFE, LOOK and Saturday Evening Post from the mid-40s onward. My favorites include ads featuring a very young Ronald Reagan selling Chesterfield cigarettes and a high-kicking Whitney Houston pitching Flicker (the lady shaver, not the photo site). I love the LIFE photo essay from Elizabeth Taylor’s scandalous 1959 marriage to Eddie Fisher and an urgent report: “Smog in Los Angeles Reaches Dangerous Proportions” ... from 1961.
That our beloved sanctuary is threatened by fire nearly every year makes it even more treasured. The Slide Fire in October 2007 was particularly harrowing; it destroyed 10 percent of the town and came within a half-mile of our place.
In the beginning, our CCW diet consisted mainly of alcohol and chips. I’ll never forget watching Debbie, my shuttle driver and mother of four, immediately set up shot glasses upon arrival for some expedient tequila intake. One very crunchy year, everyone brought giant bags of chips thinking that surely somebody else would bring the real food. These days, a more mellow buzz is the norm and fruits and veggies sit on the table; other packages say things like: “0 TransFats! High in Fiber!” Yes, we are getting older.
There are only four official rules at Chick Cabin Weekend:
- No men.
- No kids.
- No work.
- No cell phone conversations inside the cabin.
A hypothetical thrown my way: “If one of us got a sex change, would we still be allowed to attend?”
My response: “Absolutely -- you would still be the same person inside. However, you would be obligated to show us your new boy bits as the curiosity would be overwhelming.”
There is also an unspoken rule: No drama.
Should issues arise, it must be worked out quietly or moved into the woods for the squirrels and blue jays to judge. Chez Clisby is a sacred place where angry words are unwelcome.
In fact, this year two women faced a major misunderstanding with such quiet grace and maturity, I was awestruck. Not only did they not have to take it into the woods, but they tackled the issue head-on, in quiet conversation, right in the middle of the kitchen. Instinctively, we gave them lots of space but kept our noses out of it.
Observing my two old friends explaining, actively listening, agreeing to disagree and moving on -- it was a lesson for all of us. It’s a reminder that true friendships can evolve into a 4WD military vehicle that can overcome obstructions and withstand all kinds of assaults, quite handy when maneuvering the minefield of life.
“Everyone has got your back, even in conflict.” -- Susie, re: CCW
Not a rule but a general CCW philosophy, which has evolved over time:
Do What You Want Because Right Now Is Very Good
Seriously. Whatever you want. Take a nap. Paint your nails. Stay in your pajamas. Have a beer & chocolate doughnut breakfast. Lay naked on a rock. Study the Bible. Make jewelry. Sell your gold. Wear a leopard ears headband. Bake constantly. Give/receive a facial. Smoke. Experience a classic cocktail (this year: Dirty Martinis.) Go for a run. Climb a boulder. Do crafts. Walk to the General Store and Malt Shoppe. Talk about your kids. Try on free clothes. Laugh about your past. Observe ladybugs. Braid hair. Headbang. Indulge in magazines about home decor and wayward celebrities. Do nothing.
I've learned, too, that no matter how many fun activities I plan, all anyone really wants to do is talk, which requires no planning or supplies. This is a beautiful thing.
One of my favorite examples is Linda. Years ago at CCW, she was in the crux of romantic strife. Unsure about her marriage (she wanted kids, he did not), she spent the weekend in flannel footie pajamas and hiking boots. Smoking and crying, she moved from conversation to conversation: “What should I do?” Admittedly, we have all felt, at some point, "I can’t attend this year -- my life is a hot mess." Big mistake. This is precisely when you need CCW (and its ilk) the most. No judgments here, only support and choices.
(Eventually, Linda got out of her pajamas and her marriage, is now remarried and the mother of five-year-old Molly.)
In the early days, I made lots of phone calls -- not everyone was using e-mail yet. (Some who shall remain nameless -- KIM -- still only check e-mail once a month or so. Quite vexing.) I sent detailed directions and careful suggestions on what to bring. I avoided structure -- still do -- as our lives have enough of that. The only planned meal is the Saturday Night Feast -- a cacophonous blur of grilling, baking, table setting, chair grabbing and always a final cry of, “DEBBIE, JUST SIT DOWN!” I say a blessing of love and gratitude and the scarfing begins.
These days, the event completely runs itself and I have very little official function. No longer is there a gaggle of gals waiting for me to arrive from LAX with the keys. Kim -- the Heart of CCW -- now shows up a day or two early to clean and decorate. Everyone knows how to get there (head east, then go up), what to bring (snacks, photos of your loved ones), what to leave behind (anything sweet, we’ve got a compulsive baker on staff) and what to expect (talk, laugh -- repeat). I have now become the Queen Elizabeth of CCW -- no actual power, more of an official figurehead. Next year, I will demand a tiara.
Following the Saturday Night Feast, the patio is transformed into CCW Nightclub -- the lights are dimmed, candles lit, Lisa G. sets up the microphone (and more redonkulous desserts!) and we belt out our favorite tunes without ego and or safety net. (It’s karaoke minus the lyrics.) Me and my gee-tar kicked it off last year with a simple performance of “Country Roads” and a dozen pair of eyes stared back at me with looks that said, “I’m not getting up there. Not singing. NO WAY.”
It quickly turned into a stampede of floral bathrobes and flannel PJs delivering passionate word-for-word performances of Kid Rock’s “Cocky” and Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch.” One woman, after divorcing her gambling husband, belted out a heartfelt version of “Already Gone” by the Eagles. She had us on our Ugg-covered feet, cheering her new independence.
“I’ve never seen a group of women so comfortable around each other. It’s kind of surreal.” -- Bellina, experiencing her first CCW where she tearfully reconnected with a friend she had not seen in 20 years
CCW has become incredibly important to all of us -- words like “healing”, “nourishing” and “recharging” are used to describe it. Fact is, the older we get, the harder it is to connect. We often have less time and energy to invest and diminished interest in sharing life details. So, developing friendships that are true blue ... well, the rate of acquisition slows considerably.
Also, our standards change a bit. With age comes an appreciation for relationships that bring pure joy. Petty bullshit is no longer tolerated -- or shouldn’t be. Acquaintances are nice, but they not going to feed our soul, listen with their whole body or make perfect homemade margaritas until the tears are dry. The world is weird-and-getting-weirder and I need these friendships to either make sense of it all or mock it senseless.
Before this post turns into a satirical country song, I urge you to start a tradition that honors your friendships, gender no matter. Maybe its a weekly call, a monthly dinner or an annual trip. Time spent with those who know and love you best will replenish the soul in unimaginable ways. (Just keep some solid furniture nearby.)
One of my favorite parts of CCW is coming back to Mama Iva’s house in Long Beach Sunday evening. As I hand over the cabin keys, my mother greets me eagerly with chilled Coronas and her famous homemade guacamole. "So," she says, eyes wide open, ready for the full report, "What’s going with everyone?"
Turns out, she is a little girl, too.