Balancing Adventure, Strength, and Femininity

My hands tell of their days in the desert. They are dry, cracked, and tanned—like brittle old reins that haven’t seen oil in years. I slather them in salve every night and continue to feel surprised that they are parched and stiff in the morning. They are scarred—I see the permanent pink tissue from hand cracks under my middle finger, from fist cracks below my wrist, and from the green and red camalots on the bottom knuckle of my pointer finger. They are raw—the cuts and gobis from a week in Indian Creek are tender, and each time I rip tape off at the end of the day they bleed. My knuckles are swollen and ungainly from cranking on them and drinking yellow beer and eating salty chips at the end of the day.

I hold hands with a lot of different people—my love, friends, family. Recently in the Big City, a friend took my hand and gasped at how tough it felt. I admired how soft and slender and youthful her hand looked in mine. Perfectly painted nails, svelte fingers, and un-callused palms.

I too have painted nails. Today they are bubble gum pink, and they were unchipped and glossy for a grand total of two days. Sometimes they are black or blue or red. All depends on my mood and the season. The pink is chipped on the bottom and the top and looks worn down and tired. I smile remembering being in Miami, Florida, just a few short days ago. It feels as foreign to the world I’m in now as an iceberg to a canyon wren.

For the past ten months, I’ve worn an engagement ring. I love it. That decision came after a lot of discussion and conscious choice with my partner. Yes, it’s a sexist and antiquated tradition. And yes, I’m excited to wear one. It’s beautiful and symbolic of the raddest and strongest commitment I’ve ever been a part of. And no, I’m not worried about it.

It’s all the same hand.

It smells like lavender and has the sticky stuff from tape gloves caked on around my wrist. It’s wrinkly and puffy and I can still manage to squeeze this ring on during my rest days with a little elbow grease and soap. It holds a ginger kombucha and a Tecate on the same day. It shovels manure and puts on mascara.

I used to think I couldn’t be both. I am a girly girl. Or I am outdoorsy. I wear dresses and highlight my hair (gasp!) or go a month without showering and wear Carhartts. I am a feminist or I wear a fancy ring.

A friend told me that she planned to wear a sparkly dress at her wedding and that she felt nervous about it. I can so relate. Opening the two seemingly discrete parts of myself to the other group feels vulnerable and scary. I fear rejection from one community or the other, resistance or teasing. I live in a wonderful, small climbing town. Last summer, I wore my favorite army green romper to happy hour and was met with confusion. Friends asked if I was going on a safari. Or my old roommate said he couldn’t believe that I’d get a pedicure. When I asked him why, he said, “Because you wear two puffy jackets inside the house!” Like the two behaviors were mutually exclusive. Half of my community can’t believe I use a menstrual cup. The other half can’t believe I’d get a bikini wax.

But I am not shallow, nor am I dirty. I enjoy being traditionally feminine and masculine. I am dynamic and complex and simple and static. I embrace and love the different sides of myself and allow them to coexist with ease and grace. I embrace and love the different sides of myself and allow them to coexist with ease and grace. The more times I say it the truer it becomes, right?

For today, lying on my back in the bed of the Tacoma, I’ll wriggle on my puffy pants before I face the frost outside. I curse the cold as I slip on my icy flip flops and laugh at myself because I’m choosing to wear flip flops in February. And the smell of the junipers and the red buttes surrounding me make my stomach turn—in the joy of being in my favorite place and in the nervousness of knowing today’s the day to get back on my project. I remember how big that fall was last time for me and smile proudly knowing I’ll give it my all again today. I grab the Bialetti to make jet fuel and feel metal hit metal. Wait. The ring. I keep forgetting and bringing it to the crag and letting it hang out willy nilly in my pack’s zip pouch. So I slather it in Badger Balm and close my eyes ready for the pain of fat knuckles. But today it slides right off. Okay now to wash my hands—I can’t fall off of the project because I have greasy fingers. I need all the help I can get.

Kathryn Montana Perkinson is a writer living in Lander, Wyoming. Find more at and @kathrynmontana.



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