Closing the Bravery Gap

These days, Arlene Blum often hikes in a skirt. On a rainy trail walk in the hills above her office in Berkeley, California, a few weeks ago, I watched her dodge rivulets, delight in frog calls and spot an endangered newt. Now 72, Blum led the first American expedition up Annapurna in 1978. For a few glorious, hard-won moments, two Americans crowned the 26,500-foot summit. And those Americans? They were women.

What gave a lanky girl from urban Chicago the confidence to grow up to take on the Himalaya? It was a combination of love and stubborness. And it all started with her small backyard and its cherry tree.

“I liked being above all the hassle and turmoil. I loved being out in the cold and the ice and the snow, and the worse the weather the happier I was,” says Blum, who also became an accomplished chemist and environmental health advocate.

Based on what I’ve been learning lately, it’s no surprise that being in the elements helped ease Blum through a chaotic childhood, or that she became a scientific rock star. While a lot has been written and celebrated about the effects on human well-being of being in nature, it looks like girls and women may benefit even more.

For one thing, they need the boost. Girls are two to three times as likely as boys to be depressed, they are more likely to consider suicide, and they’re more likely to suffer from anxiety, eating disorders and diabetes….

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