Author Jane Parnell climbs to heal trauma
For retired instructor and author Jane Parnell, the Colorado Rockies have always held a special place in her heart.
Born and raised in Kansas, Colorado became a second home to Parnell as a child during many trips to Rocky Mountain National Park with her family in the 1950s.
Parnell later moved to Colorado where she spent many years mountaineering across the Colorado Rockies.
Parnell eventually became the first woman to climb the 100 highest peaks in the state. A feat that began in 1974, taking her eight summers to complete in June of 1981.
Last year, Parnell, who now lives in Fairplay, published her memoir, “Off Trail,” which was the result of feeling homesick for her adopted home state of Colorado.
Parnell was working on her thesis for her master’s degree in literature and writing at Utah State University at the time.
“I wanted to show the universality of how nature can be such a healing place, however you encounter it and whichever way you interact with it,” Parnell said.
“I knew I wanted to write about the Colorado Rockies, but I had no idea beyond that really.”
With some advice and a subtle push from her thesis advisor, Parnell centered her book about how mountaineering was a healing journey for her.
Parnell said it helped her recover from the trauma of a family history of mental illness and the trauma of being raped as a young woman.
“It helped me reclaim my relationship with my body,” Parnell said.
The book spans 50 years of Parnell’s life, with most of the themes of the book taking place in the mountains climbing and hiking.
Parnell said there were four things she wanted to achieve with the book. She wanted to pay homage to the mountains that helped her become the woman she is today, capture a time and place that is rapidly disappearing as a result of population growth and climate change, confront the challenges in her family (her only sibling was diagnosed at age 19 with schizophrenia), and have a conversation with the past.
“I wanted to capture that for future generations that may not be able to experience what I was able to,” Parnell said. “I wanted to show the healing power of nature.”
Parnell spent the past week visiting libraries on the Western Slope, including Parachute, New Castle, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, talking to locals about her process and journey.
“A lot of the mountains I’ve climbed are on the Western Slope. I love it here,” Parnell said of her treks in the Elk Mountain Range, which are included in her book.
“Also, as a retired university instructor, I really like engaging communities all over the state, getting to know the communities better and giving something back.”
Parnell enjoys giving back and believes offering events like meet the author is a way to do that.
“The library is kind of like the community center of many towns,” Parnell said.
Parnell hoped to instill two things to people during her readings: “That it’s possible to heal from loss or whatever your dealing with through nature, whatever your medium is; and, that the Colorado Rockies are a very precious place, and let’s not take them for granted.”
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