Heading into our April 2019 Woolfer Retreat to Joshua Tree, I was feeling unusually depleted and exhausted. In the weeks leading up to the getaway, my body was riding a new wave of hormonal rebellion and suddenly I was hot flashing up to 20 or 30 times a day and getting a sickeningly meager amount of sleep. The horror that I’d only heard described in our Facebook group was now upon me: a desire to rip off all my clothing at the drop of a hat, then shivering with cold, then dripping with sweat, sometimes feeling feverish and nauseous – the whole kit & caboodle of the menopausal stew. Two days before my scheduled departure, I ran to my doctor’s office in full surrender mode, begging for bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.
With a tiny transparent patch slapped on the skin near my belly button, I headed off to LA excited to meet these brave Woolfers who had taken us up on the opportunity to cavort with a bunch of strangers (yes and no; while we didn’t know each other IRL, we have an unusual shared intimacy from our online lives together) in the Mojave desert.
The plan was to meet Nan Doyle at the Budget Rental hut at LAX. I’ve known Nan only peripherally for a few years. We have many Brooklyn girlfriends in common, and children the same age, and I’ve long admired her style and heard of her exceptional culinary skills. Months ago over coffee, Nan told me all about her company Toast Home & Away and her intention to start taking small groups of people on highly curated vacations. She suggested we organize a series of trips for the Woolfers, and a plan was born.
Five of us met at LAX (others were coming from elsewhere and joining us directly at the hotel) on a Thursday mid-afternoon and headed off for an afternoon of getting to know each other in mind-numbing LA traffic. I took over the wheel after a pit stop for guacamole, and quickly ingratiated myself by driving over – Thelma & Louise style — one of those plastic tall lane barriers to get into the FastTrak. Throughout the nearly four hour drive, our stories began to unravel, and as we laughed over a few crazy ancestry.com tales I think we realized pretty quickly that we were going to be a good crew, just as it always is at Woolfer gatherings!
My room at 29 Palms, which I was lucky to share with fellow mod Tulani Bridegwater-Kowalski, had two twin beds perched catty-corner into the wall and made to give you the feel of living in a camper, but the room also had an alcove, which you could reach only by climbing a precipitously vertical wall ladder, and in the alcove was a full size mattress. Lying on that bed, the high point of the pitched ceiling was only about fifteen inches from my face, but that’s where I chose to sleep (or not sleep, as the case often is these days). It was cozy, and from the triangular window when I woke up in the morning, all I could see were palm trees and a bright blue sky.
The culinary highlight of the weekend was lunch at LaCopine, a stylish restaurant run by two sisters with groovy wallpaper and exceptional food (I had the citrus salad and it was the best salad I’ve had in ages). Activity highlight? Probably our 5 am sunrise hike in the park led by Greyson and Tara, two adorable qua-hippies who live out of their decked out (Mercedes) van, replete with laden bookshelves. The desert was in bloom and the landscape there in Joshua Tree is sort of like I’d imagine the moon. Truly unreal, with gently rounded (but gigantic) rocks everywhere, and the incredible yucca, which is truly a Seussian species. Breathtaking. But there were so many other amazing things we did: a tarot card class with a spiritual artist named Mary Evans who creates her own tarot and oracle decks, each one a spectacular work of art. Yoga on a rare patch of green lawn with another artist and musician, Adriana Atema, who we just wanted to pack up and bring home, she was so sprite-like and charming. A sound bath at the Integreton, which must be situated on multiple ley lines because the entire visit there, including the waiting around beforehand and the gift shop, felt to me like one giant massage. The crochet museum was not to be missed, nor the adjacent Art Queen boutique, and then there were thrift shops, drinks, caravanning in multiple cars, and lots of laughter.
You get the gist of what we did and where, but what’s harder to convey is how truly magical the women were. As in our FB community, there was beautiful diversity: of the eleven women who came and went at various times, the youngest was 41 and the eldest 73. Florida, DC, Chicago, NY, and California were all represented. Divorced, married, children, no children. One woman was taking a sabbatical year (a “Year of Me,” as she put it), after a thirty-year career in corporate America to think about what she wants next. Another is back at work as general counsel at a tech company after a 17-year break raising her family and then getting divorced. At least half of these women work for themselves and almost all have an intimate relationship with reinvention, whether personal or professional or both. One was taking this weekend escape from her young family and stressful business to nurture herself because she knew she needed the recharge. Another was wrestling with a huge decision and wanted some new perspective. So many stories; so much accumulated wisdom and pain and joy and history. It was a marvel to fall into easy camaraderie and to see each other, all of us, be wide open to whatever the weekend had in store.
At this point in our lives, we have so many experiences behind us, and we never know which memories are going to stick. This was a weekend I hope never to forget. The windmill farm on the drive out, the bright colors of the desert bloom at every turn, the sun on our faces as we walked through the farmer’s market, the ease we felt as we drove back to LAX, now real friends with intimate knowledge of each other’s lives, and those crazy magical Joshua trees.
The sustenance I get from connecting with these women is powerful, and I think comes down to the passing on of story. What one woman can teach, another woman receives, and a third laughs. We see our own stories in each other’s, but at the same time we often witness lives we can’t quite imagine, and the transparency of all that is simply empowering. One trip-goer said to me “being with all of you like this makes me feel like I could do anything,” and I knew exactly what she meant.
Throughout it all, my hot flashes started to wane. When I got back to LA my doctor sent me a text” “Your bloodwork was fine. Stay on the hormones and you should start sleeping in about a month.”