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‘A Reluctant Pioneer’ Ponders the Challenges Women Have Faced
Saturday, September 18, 2021


It was years ago that JoEllen Collins accompanied a class of Community School students on a trip along the Lewis and Clark trail that started in Montana and wound its way through Idaho.

As everyone else was talking about geography, she found herself looking at the farmsteads that they encountered, wondering what it would be like to be a woman in the West with no neighbors around for 15 miles.

She revisited her ponderings as the pandemic forced people to shelter in place, cut off from friends and even family. And, as she did, she found herself writing a book inspired by those very thoughts that she had put off too long.

The pandemic lingers. But Collins’ book, “A Reluctant Pioneer,” is out in paperback—ready to be a companion to those who are still keeping their distance and those who are not.

The book takes place almost entirely in Idaho. Collins took the unusual tack of telling the story through a  modern-day woman who finds the pioneer woman’s journal in the back of the fireplace where pioneer stored things to keep them warm.

The reluctant pioneer is a woman from Boston who’s educated and reads voraciously. Her tidy life is upset when she is called on to make a long journey to what she considers a godforsaken area.

The modern-day woman, in turn, is a woman who has to decide whether she’s going through another round of chemotherapy, which has already disrupted her family. She goes to her family cabin to get away from people and discovers the diary behind the chimney. As she reads, she gets a sense of lonely woman in the 1860s, gaining strength from them.

“I did a lot of research 10 years ago to figure out how long it took to get from place to place and what life looked like for women in covered wagons with no privacy,” Collins said. “As I did, I began wondering what women were thinking in those day.”

Collins also found herself musing about the women in her life.

“My father’s mother had 12 babies and only three lived to maturity. And, of those three, one was killed in an automobile accident. Yet she always had a smile on her face,” she recounted. “Then I began reminiscing about how I got a mild case of polio when I was a child and stayed in bed one summer. I think this book is really about surviving grief more than anything.”

Collins said the book reminded her how fortunate she is to have her dogs, a daughter living in town and a church that checks in on her every couple weeks.

“It puts my relatively wonderful life in perspective.”

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