GIRL IN THE WOODS: A Memoir by Aspen Matis
This is a seemingly familiar story of running away from something into nature to find yourself, except it has some new twists and sheds light on an epidemic in this country. In GIRL IN THE WOODS, Aspen Matis shares her story of a campus rape, hers. Crimes like this we see too often in the news and the incidence is rising in frequency, by most statistics. Unfortunately she is the victim, yet becomes a gifted storyteller in her account of this act and her journey to overcome it.
Aspen tackles the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), which is notably one of the epic hiking experiences in the US. She embarks on this journey armed only with some childhood wilderness experiences and little planning or preparation. She takes on this epic hike as a "Thru Hiker", meaning her goal was to accomplish the entire route in one try, all 2,650 miles of it. Aspen also makes the decision to do it in "light" mode; carrying only bare essentials, which add several times to her challenges along the way.
As an avid and experienced outdoors person, I was almost appalled at her lack of prep and seemingly rash decisions at the onset of this adventure. Then I recalled being 19; life then is full of those kinds of decisions. Through her experience of this campus rape, she is left feeling empty, lost and in need of something drastic in her life. She finds those things in herself on the PCT.
I'll admit, I was attracted to this story for several reasons; first as an outdoorsman and secondly, I wanted some insight to how to deal with the subject of rape, especially with the victim. I wanted to see a woman's perspective on how people treat her afterwards, how they are stymied with what to say and how to react. And it was insightful how, probably because of our lack of knowledge and openness about these emotions surrounding this crime; those around her do not handle her or her feelings well.
It is such a quagmire of emotions for everyone involved, most of us are ill equipped to deal with it well and be supportive of the victim at a vulnerable time of need; for their daughter, friend or sibling. Along the trail, strangers begin to act oddly around her, in this little wilderness click on the PCT. She is forced to make some statements and actions to dispel that miss-information and set some people straight. She does well to explain to the reader, how this wilderness community rises up each spring then dies away each fall.
The story has some real interesting moments, both in nature and in human relations. She (obviously) makes it through okay, but sometimes only by luck and possibly a series of small miracles, and with the aid of "Trail Angels". Her feat of surviving the PCT is something tremendous, no matter her motivation. And her goal, to find herself again, is noble and heartfelt. Aspen's story is unique, but also too familiar.
I believe this is a good read for couch potatoes and outdoors people alike. It is certainly one more MEN should read; for too many reasons to list here. This book may offer us all some insight to how to help, talk to and support a woman in this trap of a most personal of crime against her. GIRL IN THE WOODS even hints of a continuing mystery in its Epilogue... one I had to research myself and found immensely intriguing as a student of human nature.
GIRL IN THE WOODS is definitely a good read.
GIRL IN THE WOODS (Hardcover)
Author: Aspen Matis
Publisher: William Morrow
Published: September 8, 2015