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Branching Out: Artemis outdoors club for girls

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After I write this, I’ll be guiding five fourth and fifth grade girls in fresh snow. On walkabout, we’ll focus not on the cold, but the stories we encounter in whiteness, letting the natural world fill and propel us for an afternoon.

Binoculars will fuel curiosity. How does puffing up feathers warm a bird? Do we mimic that mechanism in human life? Are deer doing anything differently, compared to summer behaviors? Why? How come frozen tree branches don’t shatter? How come crabapples and other berries don’t freeze solid? Again — why?

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Artemis is the Greek goddess of wildness, traipsing through forest and river, mountain and meadow. She embodies all that the sporting culture reveres: wild animals and the hunt; natural landscapes of field and stream; and not only killing game, but protecting it, as she does chastity and childbirth. There is a primal profundity to Artemis, through the cycle of life and death. Artemis as metaphor is a powerful learning opportunity for modern girls — a gender that has long struggled for entré into the hunt.

Somewhere along the way, modern women lost their role and voice in the rugged outdoors. Literature of the day and marketing machines pushed women with their fantasy-driven focus on sensationalism and domination. We’ve watched a similar culture erupt since 2016, mirroring the “men’s club” loss of integrity and ethics that bravado brought to angling, archery, and hunting. 

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With Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ glass-shattering role as the first brown-skinned and female vice president, I hold high hope that outdoors women and minorities will leverage their voices and conviction to undo the ravages of the current presidency. For that, we need leaders!

Women have always held a presence in the great outdoors, with many legendary, uncelebrated proponents for wildness and its preservation. With Trump’s attacks on our environment and our public lands, outdoors organizations such as Artemis or Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, have had to galvanize engagement in advocacy and lobbying.

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As an Artemis ambassador under the National Wildlife Federation, I am tasked with growing the community of sporting women and girls locally. Artemis defines its constituency as “bold sportswomen creating fresh tracks for conservation.” 

This is why I lead the Artemis Outdoors Club for Girls through Access After School. For ten weeks in the fall, and ten weeks in the spring, we are opening girls’ eyes, hearts and minds to Nature for Nature’s sake. Research spotlight’s the massive toll human activity – extraction, recreation – has on public lands and wildlife. Artemis is purposefully focused on conserving flora, fauna, and their interrelations. As an Artemis ambassador, I hope to help stoke awe, wonder, excitement, compassion; to grow confidence, competence, purpose and fulfillment in young girls who become land stewards for our future. 

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Why separate out girls from  boys at a time when we “togetherness” and “we” more than ever?

Raised by a single father and working in a male-dominated industry for decades, I absolutely cherish the positive strengths of men. Men get after it. But if there is any kind of takeaway I’ve gleaned from my combined experiences, it’s that females learn, teach, and do things differently. My life experiences compel me to believe that women are “conscience.” 

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Listening to our national Artemis podcast, I note the ease and comfort derived learning from each other. In archery, hunting or fishing with other girls, our conversations are less aggressive, less goal-oriented. We tend to be more process-driven, allowing emotions and feelings to play out openly. And within this dynamic, we perform better and achieve more.

Those uncelebrated women, long been involved in wildness and wilderness? 

Many grew up immersed in observation, participation, knowledge, and an ethical reverence for flora, fauna and the interconnectedness of them both. Whether large or small, charismatic or ordinary, these women dedicated their lives to nurturing and preserving the aspects in nature that moved them. 

  • Mardy Murie (1902-2003) and her husband brought about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while other men chased exploratory firsts and accolades. Rachel Carson tethered health and environment. 
  • The national monument that President Trump stripped – Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument? Former President Clinton had been compelled to create it by author/editor Terry Tempest Williams and “Testimony: Writers Speak On Behalf of Utah Wilderness.”  
  • Hallie Dagget was the first woman to secure a field position with the National Forest Service (NFS) in 1913. She earned her trailblazing role through a lifetime of hunting, fishing, riding, trapping and shooting! 
  • As the first female director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mollie Beattie oversaw the reintroduction of wolves in the northern Rockies and 15 new national wildlife refuges. 
  • The “Maroon Belles,” locals Joy Caudill, Dottie Fox and Connie Harvey founded the Aspen Wilderness Workshop and doubled the protected area of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness — and on and on! 

Through dedicated leadership, these pioneering women are foundational to wildness and public lands. I hope that Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris operates through her conscience, too, proving that women in power successfully, ethically, achieve more for the outdoors.

As with many of these champions for wildness, Joy Caudill’s love of wilderness grew from a childhood spent playing it. It is a snowy day today. I’m going to take five elementary school girls outside.

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