"The Indians knew how to live," a standard male belief in the West goes. "The women did all the work, while the men hunted and fished and enjoyed themselves."
Whether true of the Indians or not, that way of outdoor life is typical of many Americans these days. If wives, daughters or girl friends are included in outdoor excursions, they are often relegated to preparing meals, cleaning up around the camp and airing out the sleeping bags.
But a pair of Oregon women are doing something to change all that. Marcia Munson, 29, and Linda Besant, 32, head an organization called Keep Listening, which conducts backpacking trips, bicycling excursions, cross-country skiing lessons and snowshoe hikes, for women only, in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. As noted, if men are present, women tend to do chores, so Keep Listening tries to create situations where women will assume more responsibility, be more self-reliant.
Keep Listening (the name is from a poem about nature by Barbara Rosson) was formed in 1977 and is sponsored by the Women's Wilderness Institute Northwest, a nonprofit educational organization. The trips vary in focus, length and degree of difficulty.
A four-day backpacking trip for mothers, daughters and grandmothers is classed as easy—meaning that participants would be expected to hike four or five miles a day in about four hours. A strenuous week-long bicycle trip exploring the islands of southwest British Columbia would call for eight hours of travel a day, covering 40 miles. Other trips include Backpacking and Wilderness Photography (moderate—meaning six hours and seven miles a day hiking, or 25 miles a day bicycling) and Marine Biology and Bicycling (also moderate). There's a sliding fee scale for the trips, and those who sign up are more or less on their honor to pay what they can afford.
On camping trips, Keep Listening supplies everything but hiking boots, raincoats and flashlights. For bike trips, bring your own three-, five-, or 10-speed and your pannier bags. Food, according to Keep Listening's brochure, "includes nutritious, whole grain menus with enough variety to please the strict vegetarian or meat-and-sugar fan."
Women who would like to turn things around and leave the men at home to do some work can contact Keep Listening at P.O. Box 446, Sandy, Ore. 97055. (Phone: 503-239-6896 or 622-3895).