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Forager

Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult: a Memoir

By Michelle Dowd

A moving, heartbreaking, and lyrical true story of the author’s escape from an apocalyptic cult—and the survival skills that led to her freedom.
 
My family prepared me for the end of the world, but I know how to survive on what the earth yields.
 
As a child, Michelle Dowd grew up on a mountain in the Angeles National Forest. She was born into an ultra-religious cult—or the Field as they called it—started in the 1930s by her grandfather, a mercurial, domineering, and charismatic man who convinced generations of young male followers that he would live 500 years and ascend to the heavens when doomsday came. Comfort and care are sins, Michelle is told. As a result, she was forced to learn the skills necessary to battle hunger, thirst, and cold; she learned to trust animals more than humans; and most importantly, she learned how to survive in the natural world.
 
At the Field, a young Michelle lives a life of abuse, poverty, and isolation, as she obeys her family’s rigorous religious and patriarchal rules—which are so extreme that Michelle is convinced her mother would sacrifice her, like Abraham and Isaac, if instructed by God. She often wears the same clothes for months at a time; she is often ill and always hungry for both love and food. She is taught not to trust Outsiders, and especially not Quitters, nor her own body and its warnings.
 
But as Michelle gets older, she realizes she has the strength to break free. Focus on what will sustain, not satiate you, she tells herself. Use everything. Waste nothing. Get to know the intricacies of the land, like the intricacies of your body. And so she does.
 
Using stories of individual edible plants and their uses to anchor each chapter, Forager is both a searing coming-of-age story and a meditation on the ways in which understanding nature can lead to freedom, even joy.
 

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Michelle Dowd

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Review quotes
"Listen to me: get this book in your hands now and prepare to lose a couple nights of sleep because you won’t be able to put it down. Michelle Dowd indeed had a chilling childhood, but that’s not what will keep you turning these pages. It’s the lyricism of language and complex characters you can’t stop thinking about it. For anyone who’s ever felt lost, this book is for you. For anyone who’s ever loved, this book is for you. For anyone who has yearned to understand where they fit in the natural world, this is your guidebook."
—Jennifer Pastiloff, bestselling author of On Being Human

"On the surface, Forager is about dramatic circumstances most of us will never experience--growing up inside a doomsday cult. This unusual lens, however, also mirrors more universal questions, such as how to build meaning out of trauma, how to tell the stories of our lives even as those lives intersect with others', how nature is a healing force even as we participate in its destruction. Michelle Dowd takes on the real, sticky, human issues without easy answers or platitudes and with a voice that is fully her own."
—Gina Frangello, author of Blow Your House Down
 
"Dazzling in depth, chilling in its revelations, Michelle Dowd’s memoir of a cult childhood proves how a life designed to be holy often turns evil. Dowd forages childhood experiences in an effort to come to terms with a family’s errant divinity—a fanaticism that leads to religious violence. What saves her, ultimately, is her biblical relationship with the natural world. Expansive in scope, brilliant in its undertaking, Dowd sifts through a wreckage of memory to create a survival guide for the apocalyptic brutality of Christian extremism."
—Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
 
"Michelle Dowd's bounty of a memoir offers us not just a survival guide, but the most ingenious map for sustenance in both body and spirit during dark times. In a world that prefers singular goals and simple answers, Forager finds power and joy in sharp-eyed, keen-fingered wandering, and its vertiginous complexities will sustain you for years to come."
—Meredith Talusan, author of Fairest: A Memoir
 
"No matter who you are or where you’re from, Dowd will guide you by the hand into her beautiful and heartbreaking family forest to show with heroic vulnerability how you might glean life from both the flowers and the thorns of her own. This isn’t just a field guide for surviving a family cult, but a universal path through the dark and glorious wood of life itself. Forager is a forest in bloom, a stream on a sweltering day, a Polaris of hope, a masterpiece of storytelling and empathy. And when you step into the sunlight on the other side of this magnificent book, Dowd will have freed you right alongside herself."
—Drew Philp, author of A $500 House in Detroit
 
Product Details
Categories
Number of pages
288
Publication date
March 07, 2023
ISBN
9781643751856
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