A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I spent three days hiking in Coyote Canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. High red rock cliffs tightly embrace the narrow canyon. Riverine vegetation of cottonwoods and willows is lush. Nary a twig of despised salt cedar mars the unspoiled canyon.
A perennial stream flows along the bottom of the canyon. For our first day and a half it flowed clear and gentle. We waded across the ankle-deep water dozens of times, occasionally walking through it for a hundred yards or more.
Then while we were on our way to the stream’s mouth where it joins the Escalante River, we heard thunder in the distance and raindrops began to pelt us. We took shelter in one of the numerous shallow caves in the cliffs above the stream. We heard more thunder. Then hail began to bounce off the boulders. Eventually, the storm seemed to ease but heavy clouds hung over the canyon, thunder continued to boom afar and we decided to turn back.
Walking through the bosque, I turned toward the stream and stopped cold. “Thelma,” I yelled to my wife, “you have to come see this.”
Our gentle, clear 3-inch stream had become a muddy, raging torrent at least 4 feet deep. Standing waves rose above boulders and water foamed and frothed high into the air. It was a flash flood.
Only once before had we seen a flash flood. It was nearly 30 years ago while we were hiking in the Air Mountains in the Sahara Desert in northern Niger. We had crossed a stream that was perhaps a hundred yards wide but so shallow that it was little more than a series of mud puddles. We had lunch at a house near the stream. When we returned, the mud puddles were a river so formidable we could’t get across.
Now in Coyote Canyon, dozens of river crossings lay between us and our camp site upstream. We had no choice but to select a soft rock beneath an overhang that sheltered us from the recurring hail, and wait out nature.
After a couple of hours, the waters began to recede. While the river was still deep and fast flowing, the rapids were not quite so extreme. We looked at each other and wondered whether we dared chance a crossing. While we debated, another hiker came along.
She was a tall, slender young woman wearing a daypack and carrying a long limb as a walking stick. She nodded to us and with barely a hesitation plunged into the torrent.
Having been rather embarrassingly shown the way by a solitary young woman, Thelma and I ventured into the river. We made that crossing and numerous others without incident and eventually got back to our campsite, drenched and exhausted. Later we saw the young woman sitting casually beside the stream, well and safe. We nodded to each other in passing.
Afterward my wife marveled, “A woman alone! Out here! Imagine!” Then she exclaimed with the call of a cheerleader, “Women are doing it!”
They are indeed. Although this was the only woman we saw hiking alone in Coyote Canyon, we did see other women hiking and camping in single-sex groups. Neither of us could recall seeing so many so adventurous women in such rugged and remote country.
River crossings are not the only obstacles women are surmounting.
The largest countries in Asia, including several Muslim ones, have or have had women heads. So have the largest countries in South America and the two most powerful nations in Europe, along with dozens of lesser states. Sixty-three countries have had a woman as chief of state or head of government, and at present 16 countries are run by women.
In fact women running governments has become so common that Hillary Clinton as the first woman President of the U.S. would be more following than creating a trend. Nevertheless, a woman atop the world’s most powerful country will change not only us but the world. Based on her speeches and press conferences in the past, especially when she was secretary of state, she would put demands for female equality, at home as well as abroad, at the top of her agenda as president.
Women have taken charge in other arenas, too. In an age in which higher education is regarded as the key to success, more women than men earn associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. And the difference exists across all racial groups—blacks, Asians, Hispanics, American Indians and, yes, Caucasians.
Moreover, women’s advantage over men is not only persisting but actually growing. In 1994, 63 percent of recent female high school graduates and 61 percent of males were in college following graduation. By 2012, the share of young women had increased to 71 percent, but it remained unchanged for young men at 61 percent.
A handful of the nation’s biggest companies have or recently had women CEOs. A few months ago, the Guardian became first first big English-language publication to be edited by a woman. The Economist, perhaps the world’s foremost magazine, also has a woman editor.
Close to home, The Independent is the only New Mexico publication I can think of currently edited by a woman, Leota Harriman.
A lot of these thoughts were triggered by a play, “Drunken City,” which I saw in May at the Cell in Albuquerque. In a talk afterwards, one of the actresses remarked, “Sisters before misters.” The line derives from title of a 2006 episode of “Just for Kicks” on Nickleodeon TV. It neatly summarizes the “Drunken City” plot pitting the loyalty among three women friends against their social and amorous ties with men.
The play reflects an idea that is as old as the human race and as new as the latest twist in the tortuous progress of feminism. For many, perhaps most, women, men are a social convenience and a biological necessity (at least their sperm is), but relationships with women are the essence of their lives.
My nonagenarian mother-in-law has been without a man in her life since becoming a widow some 30 years ago. She has built a life that, except for her two sons, revolves entirely around women. They meet and chat and walk and eat and go to festivals. They attend church, celebrate marriages and mourn at funerals. They are a female island. My mother-in-law and her friends don’t seem to miss the absent males at all.
My sister-in-law divorced her husband many years ago and since then has lived as a single woman. She works full time as a teacher, bikes to work, hikes in the mountains, travels widely in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America in small groups that are predominantly female. She has done just fine without men.
Now a woman is the odds-on favorite to be our next president. According to a poll by CBS released May 19, men back Republican Donald Trump 46 percent to 41 percent, but women favor Democrat Hillary Clinton 53 percent to 36 per cent. Put the two figures together and Trump is behind 47 percent to 41 percent. Many national pundits looking at the data conclude that Trump has slit his own throat by his unceasing stream of misogynous comments, which have alienated an overwhelming majority of women.
If we manage to avoid the fate of a Trump presidency, we will have the women to thank.
Something is happening among women that has already begun to change the world, but I suspect the changes we’ve seen are nothing compared to what’s coming.