Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult: a Memoir


By Michelle Dowd

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$25.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 27, 2024. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

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.
As a child, Michelle Dowd grew up on a mountain in the Angeles National Forest. She was born into an ultra-religious cult, the Field, started in the 1930s by her grandfather, who convinced generations of young male followers that he would live five hundred 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 learns to trust animals more than humans; and most importantly, she learns 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. But as Michelle gets older, she realizes she has the strength to break free. Focus on what will sustain 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.

  • “A harrowing, engrossing story of survival amid painful circumstances… Heartbreaking and difficult to put down, this book lyrically chronicles an impressive rise out of illness, poverty, and indoctrination… enthralling.”
    Kirkus Reviews

    "Beautifully delicate illustrations and foraging tips also keep things bright. An inspiring and insightful tale of resilience in the face of adversity, this book is hard to put down.”

    "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
  • "This is a searing, soaring coming-of-age story that unfolds under the most unconventional of circumstances . . . Forager is a true testimony both to the resourceful child Michelle Dowd was and to the extraordinary woman she became."
    Hope Edelman, New York Times bestselling author of Motherless Daughters

On Sale
Feb 27, 2024
Page Count
304 pages
Algonquin Books

Michelle Dowd

Michelle Dowd

About the Author

Michelle Dowd is a professor of journalism and contributor to the New York TimesAlpinist, The Los Angeles Book ReviewCatapultOnlySky, and other national publications. She founded The Chaffey Review, an award-winning literary journal, advises student media, teaches poetry and critical thinking in the California State prisons and has been recognized as a Longreads Top 5 for The Thing with Feathers, on the relationship between environmentalism and hope. She guides yoga and meditation workshops throughout southern California, where she hikes the peaks with her four dogs. 

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