Alone Time

By Caleb Riston

Photo by Dreamstime

Spring quarter is a happy time in college, as the short, gloomy days of winter give way to sunshine and bright color with a hum of positivity that hangs in the warm air. This quarter I felt none of it. My double major left me drained. Projects and assignments sprung leaks and my academic life sunk. Grades slipped below my goals taking my enthusiasm and drive with them. I set high expectations for myself and I was not achieving them. Each week was a draining and busy ordeal followed by a short weekend of respite.

The weekend was a time to escape the mountainous drudgery of school. I endeavored to avoid twirling my thumbs in the dorm, grab some friends, and find an interesting place to visit. Unfortunately, most of my friends were as busy and tired as I was and nobody would join me. What good was it to experience something cool without any company to share it with? Loneliness often envelopes me, filling every crevasse of my personality with a deep and abiding sense of futility. It killed my desire to find somewhere bright and beautiful. Bright and beautiful still sounded good after a week of failing at school life. I decided to go alone. 

It didn’t take long to find a place to visit. North of my college lies the vast farmland of the Palouse in Washington state. The land is uneven and dune-like, made up of loss or wind swept dirt. Fresh crops of wheat and lentils turn the scenery a rich green in the spring. Driving through it is often described as jumping into the Windows XP background. Lying in the middle of the rolling hills is the towering Kamiak Butte, a small pine covered mountain amid the vast farmland. It appeared to me as an oasis jutting out from a sea of green. Something fascinating and beautiful to visit.  

I tried one last time to find some friends to join me, but they all had plans of one sort or another. It wasn’t anybody’s fault; college life was busy and we all had different goals for our fleeting free time. Discouraged, but not defeated, I jumped in my car. When driving along State Route 127, the green hills of the Palouse region roll by like a gentle sea. It is enchantingly beautiful. A bright sunny afternoon drive in this environment should lift anyone’s spirits, but instead of joy I felt melancholy. Beauty is something best shared. I had nothing. The two-and-a-half-hour country drive turned into a depressing thought festival as I wondered what I had to do to prepare for the next week of school. Despite the miserable company of myself, I still managed to arrive at Kamiak with plenty of time for a hike to the top.

The three-and-a-half-mile Pine Ridge Trail, one of the few tree-covered areas of the Palouse, provided thick shade for my sad walk. The stressful week weighed on me. I attempted to forget about it, I was hiking in a cool place after all! Then it dawned on me that I was hiking to the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere by myself. What a ridiculous exercise this was.

Upon reaching the upper ridge of Kamiak, the trail opened to all-encompassing views of the rolling hills of the Palouse as far as the eye could see. Sitting on a rock outcropping, I soaked it in. The view was incredible and silence reigned save for a gentle breeze that rose from the scenery below. Not a soul in sight; ostensibly the loneliest thing I had ever done. I sat like that for what felt like hours as my stress slowly thawed. I realized that in the busyness of the last few weeks and the worry over my social life, God had been forgotten. Despite His presence, God had been drowned out by the constant noise of life. In the silence, on this hill in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by His creation, I could finally hear Him again. The icy worries melted in the warmth of His presence. Indeed, I had done the loneliest thing in my entire life, but it was the least lonely I’d ever felt.
 
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).