Reflecting on the Women of Color Retreat

This inspiring heart-felt piece is written by Diana Zuniga who attended the 2016 Balanced Rock Women of Color Wilderness Retreat. We appreciate Diana’s contribution very much. Any political views expressed here are Diana’s personal views and don’t represent Balanced Rock’s a-political stance as a non-profit. We haven’t edited her submission at all and hope you enjoy reading it! All photos were provided by Diana.


Now in this time when some of us are in a constant state of fear because of the interactions we see on the street and the hate words thrown around by the federal administration, I knew it was time to remember my first sola trip. A journey with a group of incredible people at the Women of Color Backpacking Retreat through the spaces of Yosemite National Park and solo down the California landscape to visit Keough Hot Springs, the former internment camp that held Japanese people at Manzanar National Historic Site, and Santa Barbara. It was my 29th year and I knew I needed to be away and alone as much as possible. I needed to be close to nature for an extended amount of time with people that looked like me and with souls that had a connection to femme energy.

I googled “women of color retreat” and  found the Balanced Rock program that prioritized teaching women of color about the outdoors and was led by two extraordinary women, Chelsea Griffie and Miho Aida. I was ecstatic and luckily was able to attend after being on the waiting list and being notified that two people canceled. It was meant to be!

I remember sensing fear again as I got ready to take this trip alone and drive through California as a woman of color in a time where Trump was already spitting his slander. I saw signs on several different farms in the central valley saying “Another Farmer for Trump”, one of which had strong graffiti art across it. I sensed the fear driving my little Prius up the Yosemite mountain with a gut full of butterflies since I am afraid of heights, and some uneasiness as I drove through nature to get to my destination to meet my group. I’m glad that I moved through that fear which led me to meet people from Canada, New York, Texas, and to reconnect with a friend that had been in my organizing circle. I met people of color confronting the status quo by inserting themselves in the corporate world, in theater, in fashion, and in art. I was a part of discussions confronting our experiences with race, gender and being female identified in the communities we were a part of. I’m also glad I moved through that fear and allowed my body to experience what I did up in those mountains and creeks for four days.

Here is some of my reflection the day after I left Yosemite:

I just finished my Yosemite journey and I’m now in a little tent built for two at the Keough Hot Springs. I feel so good being here and so fulfilled. I know I have to reflect on this experience. A thing that fed my soul, my body that had been asleep for a while, and my mind to know that I can really do anything. I can do anything I want.

As I lay here done, I just feel so complete. So complete I want to cry. So many times I moved through mother nature masked in concrete and loved it.

But these last four days I saw mother nature in her rawest form. I moved like her — completely vulnerable. I remembered how to rely on skills, my brain and my body’s energy while constantly leaning on the internal thought, “I have to do this”, and survival on my mind.

The moments when my legs were so sore I thought I couldn’t take another step upwards. When my breath was so dry I didn’t think I could swallow. When my arms were so tight I had to stretch them like I was flying to move my trekking poles again. And even now as I lie here and place my legs down I can feel the pain.

I was so in my body. In a way that I don’t think I’ve been before. Maybe this is the next phase of my process. Really being in my body. The last phase felt like a restoration of my faith which is evolving. My mind has always been ahead of me and I’m getting to a place where emotions are easier to share. But my body has always been hard to read. These four days I listened to my body. I appreciated it in every way possible and had no idea how I could complete this challenge without it. I’m so grateful for her.

The journey of Balanced Rock was healing for me. It brought me back to my body. It made me realize just how strong my body and mind are. Just how connected I am to the earth, to the stars, to the moon — to mother nature, to pacha mama.

I will continue loving my body for all the sustenance it gives me, for always being there, for taking anything that comes its way, and for being so damn beautiful. I will heal the wounds that my body has absorbed. I will do this so that I can continue to walk strong, so that I can ease the tension in my back and shoulders, so that I can breathe better and love better. All for me from me.

I have been trying to carry this reflection with me everyday as we live in a world that can place uncertainty and fear into the lives of female identified women of color. Fear of being female identified because of our beautiful bodies, fear of the color of our skin inciting unwarranted insults, fear of policies limiting our movement to and from other countries, fear of the restrictions our bodies might undergo, fear for our families and friends that can be impacted by continued racism and oppression — I invite us to move through that fear by remembering our voices, protecting our spaces, and entering closer to the natural world that will always welcome, protect, and hold us. Just look at how the National Park’s are using Twitter to defy Trump.

Now is the time for people to enter into mother nature and  relearn how to survive living with her. I invite all my people of color to take a look at Balanced Rock’s programs and to choose to be a part of one along their life’s journey.

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