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Women go walkabout

For many women, there comes a time — usually midlife — when parenting is done and they find themselves with a life they've "outgrown." Some local women in this situation have taken off on what's called a "walkabout," trying to find a new inner self and start a new stage of life.

It can be scary and lonely, says 56-year-old Betsy Lewis, after selling most of her belongings, jumping in her car and heading south from Ashland. "It was my longing for freedom, to adventure and explore, to live more intuitively, some of it planned, a lot of it not planned. It's not an escape. It's conscious. There's so much beauty and wisdom trapped inside women at this time in life, and it wants to come out and live."

Like other women on walkabout, Lewis talks about the depth of experience that comes from decades spent raising children, working and being married. Now, it's time for a new chapter of life and for deeper parts of herself to emerge. But what are they and what do they have to say?

"My first two nights, I spent at St. Rita's Retreat Center in Gold Hill, and it was kind of a dark night of the soul," says Marla Estes, 57, an Ashland counselor and personal-growth seminar leader. "It's like a rite of passage. You're living with uncertainty and unfamiliarity to see what happens. You follow what allures you with the idea of finding what's next in your life."

Recently done with child rearing and marriage, Estes explored Whidbey Island in Washington for some weeks — posting thoughts and photos on www.marlaestes.blogspot.com — and seeking to overcome her comfortable "homebody" routine, in which she felt secure and in charge.

"I did it to see if I could do it. I pushed my edge," says Estes. "It gave me more confidence that I can't get from everyday life. I overcame my phobia about getting lost. I realized I'll always find my way. I got the feeling that adventures do happen. I felt, 'OK, what else does life offer?' "

The walkabout, adds Estes, is not like the male midlife crisis, which is more an acting out of bucket-list adventures.

"The walkabout is internal," she says.

The idea of a walkabout — wandering in the bush for months — comes from Australian Aborigines, who coined the word. For local women, the Western version of walkabout involves traveling alone, being open to "the universe" showing them what to do, often writing or painting and seeking spiritual guidance for the next stage of life.

The new model, these women say, is detailed in Joan Anderson's book, "The Second Journey: The Road Back to Yourself."

From it, Lewis quotes, "There are outlived events and relationships that we must celebrate and then let go of, and there are unlived experiences that we must search for, welcome and live into."

Lewis has created a blog, "The Walkabout Woman," welcoming women to post tales of their journeys — especially the inner journey — and to help allay the frequent sense of loneliness that can come with not having a defined goal.

"I invite women to live their longings and to share their writing, poetry, art, photos — and to ask questions," says Lewis, noting she'd "outlived" her old life. Her blog is www.thewalkaboutwoman.com.

With kids grown, 52-year-old Tarri Lucier sold most of her possessions, left Talent and has spent several years on walkabout, earning a degree (summa cum laude) at University of California Berkeley, beginning to organize a self-contained community on some land and "absolutely" growing spiritually, feeling she's actualized the teaching from the biblical Sermon on the Mount — to behold the lilies of the field who get everything they need without toil.

"No, it hasn't been scary," says Lucier. "I haven't had time to be afraid. It all flowed really well, and I've found great peace of mind. I know I'm safe and I don't need to own things. Everything — money, clothing, transportation — has always just arrived."

Of her outgrown life, she says, "I'd gone as far as I could with a regular job and responsibilities."

For some women, aging is a significant piece of the motivation for walkabout.

Estes says she asked herself, "If not now, when? You're aware you have less time left in life now, and you want to do it while you have mobility, good health and your mental faculties."

Sometimes, as with Estes, the first walkabout breaks the ice. Now, she's planning for a longer one, much farther from home, in Australia.

None of the women bemoaned lightening possessions, with Lewis, just recovered from cancer surgery, observing, "I don't miss them. I don't need them to be happy. The sense of my own mortality is huge. I might not have a future. I'm not putting anything off."

Some ride the circuit among old friends, grown children and their family of origin, as well as making new "road friends" and spending plenty of time alone.

You naturally have a vision of what it's going to be like and what's going to happen, but the walkabout can hand you something very different, says 55-year-old SageAnn Grace of Ashland, who pictured herself writing in a cottage on the California coast. Such an idyll proved overly spendy and the loneliness overly burdensome, but injuries from a fall sent her to a month of healing with her parents, whom she hadn't stayed with for 30 years.

"My walkabout turned out to be totally different and much deeper than I ever imagined," she says. "I learned so much about love and family. I'd wake up every day and think, 'What can I do to make Mom and Dad happy?' I learned about my own inner strength. I absolutely learned to trust my own soul."

After decades of being a mom, Grace says, "I found it very uncomfortable to be by myself, but I was called to the walkabout — I know this — and the alone days were powerful. As soon as you step on the path of the walkabout, it moves you along. You can resist it and be in hell, or you can dig down deep and find out who you really are.

"It's a rite of passage, an in-between time that moves you from one style of life to the new one you that will live from then on."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Women go walkabout