Austen, Politics and Wildflowers: Causes to Write | opinion
Monday was my first day in my sophomore year and after a long day as an assistant and attending my first semester, I took time to relax in a hot bath. Much later than I’d like to admit, I finished about the tenth time Sense and Sensibility. Since I didn’t want to put the book down just yet, I ended up reading the brief description of Jane Austen’s life. One point struck me in particular. Austen lived her short life in a relatively small circle of family, friends and acquaintances. Although she never filled social roles such as wife or mother, she wrote stories about human nature that have proven valuable and entertaining for every subsequent generation.
Having been writing this column for seven months now, I feel the need to ponder why. My life is full of obligations and duties, responsibilities and deadlines. The balance between marriage, raising four children, studying full-time, part-time employment, church volunteering, and running our household together has proven very challenging. Adding another responsibility, with clear deadlines and less clear parameters, seemed a little illogical to me when I turned to the Daily News for an opportunity to write. However, it arose out of a deep desire to bring my voice into dialogue in our community, although I feel that my own life experiences are limited.
The final months of 2020 and the first few months of 2021 brought some of the strongest emotions I have ever experienced in myself and the people I interacted with. I have observed deep divisions in long-term relationships triggered by our political climate or different responses to the pandemic. My goal was to add a measured voice, a mediating voice, and a calming voice. I encourage people to focus again on priorities that are sometimes lost in the mix – especially our most important relationships. To do this, we often have to change our perspective, as we view other people’s views with a little more compassion. Sometimes this postponement is easier when we have the opportunity to take a break.
In the past two weeks after my summer research was completed, I got away from it all for two backpacking adventures in the Wallowa Mountains of northeast Oregon. The Wallowas hold a special place in my heart, as a magical retreat from reality and as an environment of deep renewal for my soul. Since I started backpacking a few years after my mother, I have found my annual trips to be a fascinating mixture of exhaustion and calm, finding clarity in sweat and dust.
For me, backpacking allows me to focus on two main things – the overwhelming beauty of nature and my basic needs. It makes you strong to push my body to its physical limits while I feed my soul by rushing streams, dizzying rock peaks and breathtaking wildflower meadows. Carrying all of my food, cleaning my water, building my shelter, hanging food out of the reach of determined rodents, and solving uncomfortable bathroom needs make me feel successful and strong.
I am aware that escaping the relentless noise and pressures of daily life is a privilege that many cannot experience, even once a year. If so, I would like to encourage each of us to seek smaller periods of silence in our lives. We need times to switch off, so that we can concentrate fully on the current moment or the natural beauty outside. And most importantly, we need to look into the eyes of those around us and learn to be more present in our families and friendships.
One of my goals for this school year is not to let my annual or twice yearly trips be my only experience of renewal. I want and need to purposely seek glimpses and glimmers of this overwhelming peace in my daily life. In doing so, I know that my mental and physical health will improve and help me cope with the many tasks that lie ahead of me.
Palmer is a wife, mother, graduate student, and backpacker from the Pacific Northwest who has been making memories of the Palouse since 2012. Palmer’s research focuses on overnight camps and positive youth development. Palmer can be reached at [email protected]