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The Source of All Things: A Memoir

The Source of All Things: A Memoir

3.8 17
by Tracy Ross

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Called “brave and heartbreaking” by Elle and “an extraordinary journey” by People, Tracy Ross’s riveting memoir about abuse, survival, and healing is now available in paperback.

Tracy Ross’s adult life has been defined by her determination to push herself to the physical limits of what a person can endure.


Called “brave and heartbreaking” by Elle and “an extraordinary journey” by People, Tracy Ross’s riveting memoir about abuse, survival, and healing is now available in paperback.

Tracy Ross’s adult life has been defined by her determination to push herself to the physical limits of what a person can endure. In The Source of All Things, she struggles to reconcile her stepfather’s abuse with her desire to make her family whole again.

Tracy’s stepfather first molested her when she was eight years old. But he was also her family’s savior—the man who rescued her mother from deep depression and the protective figure who instilled in her the very passion for nature that saved her life. It wasn’t until she ran away from home at fourteen that her family was forced to confront the abuse that tore them apart.

The Source of All Things is a powerful, breathtakingly honest story about a mistake that has taken three decades and thousands of miles of raw wilderness to reconcile. Unfolding in the achingly gorgeous landscapes of Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska, Tracy describes her search for a place in which to heal, the sacredness of the outdoors, and the ways in which nature, at its most wild and challenging, gave her the strength to overcome.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Disturbing but beautifully written...[We've] heard stories like these before, but rarely in such clear, unsentimental prose." —O magazine

"Brave and heartbreaking...her courageous story will bring solace and inspiration to others drowning in fear and lacking a voice of their own." —Elle magazine

"[An] extraordinary journey of anguish and redemption..." -People magazine

The Source of All Things is a brave book. Sustained by her love of nature, Tracy Ross’s search for truth, clarity, and vindication involving her childhood abuse is told in an easygoing voice that allows us to readily digest her horrors. In a kind of ironic silver lining, the man who abused Tracy also cultivated her love of the wild, introducing her to its exhilarating applications and healing powers where she always found solace—perhaps it was his unconscious attempt at salvation?” – Norman Ollestad, author of Crazy for the Storm

“Tracy Ross is unflinchingly honest as she portrays a life scarred by dark secrets and deeply concealed wounds. But it is in her beloved wilderness that we exalt in her hard won triumphs of self discovery and the serenity of forgiveness. The Source of All Things is a mesmerizing memoir that lingers in your mind long after you close the book.” - Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author of The Butterfly’s Daughter

Tracy Ross is fearless. She has faced the black stuff of her childhood and turned it into a memoir that will grip you, break your heart, and finally sing to you. Most of all, you will be glad she survived to write this funny, inspiring, beautiful book.” – Claire Dederer, author of Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses

"I loved this book. Part survivor memoir and part love letter to nature, I found The Source of All Things compulsively readable and intensely enthralling. " –Julia Scheeres, author of A Thousand Lives

“In this brave memoir Tracy Ross embodies the detachment necessary to function while the wound of childhood sexual trauma festers unseen, erupting in self-destructive, dangerous behaviors until Ross can finally learn the truth, and thus begin to heal. In speaking her truth, in making herself vulnerable, she will help heal others.”—Janine Latus, author of If I Am Missing or Dead: a sister’s story of love, murder and liberation

"Powerful...a compelling story." —PW

"Ross continually explores the boundaries of father-daughter intimacy, never demonizing her stepfather, but instead, humanizing him—a far more difficult task." —Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist and contributing Backpacker magazine editor Ross uses the outdoors to guide her powerful memoir detailing the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather. The germ of her story—which Ross first published in her magazine in 2009—recounts not only the abuse itself but also Ross's unusual resolution to forgive her stepfather, after confronting him (on tape) about the details of the molestation. It began during a family camping trip when Ross's stepfather, Donnie Lee, tucked her in and touched her for the first time when she was eight. Until she was 14 and reported the abuse to a friend who called the police, Lee would often come into Ross's room at night in their Twin Falls, Idaho, house, even though her mother was right down the hall. Though the abuse is a defining moment in her life, it is not the sole focus of her book. She details her love for the natural world—a passion first cultivated by Lee—with stints in New Mexico, Alaska, and Colorado. But it's the return to Redfish Lake with Lee, 30 years after the abuse began there, that is the soul of this compelling story. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Sexual abuse by her stepfather, an adolescence spent in foster homes, and a mother who neither prevented the abuse nor provide stability shaped Ross's childhood. As an adult, she decided to live her life-spent mainly in the outdoors-by seeking truth and strength. The literal and figurative steps she took to confront her stepfather about their past, in the wilderness setting where he first began his abuse of her, reveal steely self-reliance and a rare capacity for forgiveness.What I Am Telling My Friends Not in a million years would I have had the guts to do what Ross did, either in terms of her wilderness adventures or finding the truth and healing her past wounds. This is not always easy reading, but Ross's steady writing supports you til the very end. — "Memoir Short Takes," Booksmack! 1/20/11

Product Details

Free Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Simon & Schuster
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


Redfish Lake, Idaho, July 2007

All my dad has to do is answer the questions.

That’s it. Just four simple questions. Only they aren’t that easy, because questions like these never are. We are almost to The Temple, three days deep in the craggy maw of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, and he has no idea the questions are coming. But I have them loaded, hot and explosive, like shells in a .30-30.

It’s July and hotter than hell on the sage-covered slopes, where wildfires will char more than 130,000 acres by summer’s end. But we’re up high, climbing to nine thousand feet, and my dad, who is really my stepdad, says that this heat feels cooler than the heat in Las Vegas, where he lives. Four days ago, he and my mother met me in Twin Falls, a town 140 miles south of here where I grew up. They’d driven north, across Nevada, past other fires, including one on the Idaho border. When I saw my mom, at a friend’s house where she’d wait while Dad and I backpacked, she’d seemed even tinier than her four-foot eleven-inch frame. Her sweatpants—plucked from the sale bin at a Las Vegas Abercrombie and Fitch store—drooped like month-old lettuce over her bum. In the creases of her mouth, a white paste had congealed, proof that she was taking antidepressants again. Officially, she’s said that she’s glad Dad and I are going back to the place our troubles began twenty-eight years ago, almost to the day. But as I kissed her goodbye, leaving her standing in our friend’s driveway, I wondered, which way is the wind now blowing?

It was late when we left Twin Falls that night—too late to reach the trailhead to The Temple. So Dad and I slept in a field of sagebrush above the town of Stanley. A gnawing in my stomach kept me from eating our black beans and tortillas, but the smell of the sage helped quiet the fear I felt welling beneath my ribcage. In the morning, Dad parked his red Ford pickup at the Redfish Lake Lodge and we took a boat across the water. On the far shore, we found the trailhead to our destination, which we started hiking toward and have been for the past three days.

At sunrise this morning we slid out of our bags, made breakfast, and caught a few fish. When we finally started hiking, we climbed out of one basin and into another, inching up switchbacks sticky with lichen and loose with scree. At the edge of one overlook, we saw smoke rising on the horizon from a fire that was crowning in the trees. And when we arrived at the lake with the dozen black frogs chirping across the water, we called it Holy Water Lake because it was Sunday and we did feel a bit closer to God.

Now the wilderness seems haunting and dark. The air is thin, the terrain rugged, and my dad’s body—sixty-four years old, bow-legged, and fifteen pounds overweight—seems tired and heavy to me. He’s been struggling the last half-mile, stopping every few feet to catch his breath, adjust his pack, and tug on the big, wet circles that have formed under the armpits of his T-shirt, which reads Toot My Horn. Ignoring his choice of wardrobe, I try to remember the father who first led me into these mountains. That man was lean, with a light brown mustache and hair that fanned out from his cheekbones in beautiful blond wings. In a Woolrich shirt and hunting boots he charged up trails, coaxing me on to ridgelines with views of vast, green valleys. If I whined from heat or wilted with hunger, he’d lift me onto his shoulders so effortlessly it was as if my body were composed entirely of feathers.

I know my dad is hurting because I am hurting too—and not just my legs and lungs or the bottoms of my feet. We have barely spoken since we left the dock at Redfish Lake, left the boat and the worried Texans who said, “You’re going where?” I’m sure we seemed an odd pair: an old man and his—what was I? Daughter? Lover? Friend? When we stepped off the boat, I’d wanted to turn back, forget this whole sordid mess. But The Temple—a spot on the map I’d latched onto and couldn’t let go of—was out here somewhere. And, besides, I still hadn’t decided if I was going to kill him outright or just walk him to death.

We’re here for reasons I don’t want to think about yet, so I train my mind on the sockeye salmon that used to migrate nine hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean to lay their eggs and die at Red-fish Lake. That was before the Army Corps of Engineers put in the dams that obstructed their journey. For decades, no fish have made it back to their ancestral spawning grounds at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains. But when I was young, sockeyes clogged the streams pouring out of the lake, creating waves of bright red color. Mesmerized, I knelt on the banks of Fishhook Creek and stretched my fingers toward their tinfoil-bright fins. My dad told me that the fish were rushing home to ensure the continuance of their species. He said they hadn’t eaten in months; were consuming the nutrients in their own bodies. Over the years I have thought of the fish with love and terror. I want to hover, as they did, over the origin of my own sorrow and draw from it a new, immaculate beginning.

Several times as we hike up the trail, I fantasize about finding the perfect, fist-size rock and smashing it against my dad’s skull. I picture him stumbling, falling onto the ground. I see myself crouching beside him, refusing to hold him as he bleeds. But even as I imagine it, I know I won’t do it, because I can’t afford to lose my dad—yet. For twenty-eight years he has held my memories hostage. Without him, I’ll never know what he did to me when I was a kid.

We climb for another hour until, a few hundred feet from the pass, we turn off the trail. In front of us is a circle of granite towers, sharp and fluted like the turrets on the Mormon Tabernacle. Loose rocks slide down vertical shafts and clatter to the ground. Quickly but carefully, my dad and I crabwalk across the jumbled blocks, insinuating ourselves into tight slots and willing our bodies to become lighter, so the boulders won’t shift beneath us and break our legs.

When we get to the wide, flat rock that looks like an altar, we stop. My dad slumps over, sips water, and chokes down a few bites of food. His eyes, the color of chocolate, begin to melt, and the corners of his mouth tremble, as if he’s fighting off a frown.

Hunching next to him on the granite slab, I squint into his red-brown, sixteenth-Cherokee face. I dig in my pack until I locate my handheld tape recorder. Holding it close to my father’s lips so the wind won’t obscure his answers, I begin the interrogation I’ve waited most of my life to conduct.

“Okay, Dad,” I say. “I’m ready. Tell me. How did it begin?”

© 2011 Tracy Ross

Meet the Author

Tracy Ross is an award-winning journalist and senior editor at Backpacker Magazine. Her essay “The Source of All Things” has been named a finalist for a National Magazine Award and has been selected for inclusion in The Best American Sports Writing and The Best American Magazine Writing. She lives with her family in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado.

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The Source of All Things: A Memoir 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would like to thank this author. I am a survivor of sexual abuse from my father. What helped me the most was to realize that the fears she felt while going through the abuse is exactly how I felt. It helped me to realize that I am "normal" for a survivor of sexual abuse. It is a must read for someone who would like to understand or validate what a sexually abused child goes through. Not only during, but the struggles that we face.
BookHounds More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best memoirs I have read this year and I read a lot of memoirs. I was truly amazed that Tracy Ross could write such a moving story of her life and the courage to publish it. It is a true story of survival and how nature can help restore the human spirit. I was enthralled with how she captured her surroundings and made minor characters come to life. Her story is one that should inspire others to overcome their own heartache. I don't know if I could survive the abuse Tracy Ross experience and in the end forgive her step father for that abuse. I think the real key was that she was brave enough to confront him in the end and comes to term with what happened. I think that helped her healing process immensely. Her retelling of how her mother responded to it seemed typical of other stories of abuse that I had heard. Her mother didn't want to hear about it nor did she believe what took place. I thought that in the long run her mother paid a high price with her own health. Her descriptions of her life and how she coped with the betrayal were perfectly related and explained how their actions caused her despair. I had a few tears when she described how she felt from the abuse. There were also some smiles as she described her joy about finding the perfect love and sharing that with two lovely boys. I wish Tracy all good things since she deserves it. I received this book at no expense from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
BandNgr More than 1 year ago
Written by Roger Meyer This is the story of a sexually abused child and her effort to overcome the after effects. You'll cringe as you read her tale and ordeal. You'll realize how lucky you are if you were never abused. Tracy spends a lot of her life coming to grips with her past. She has several medical problems that add to her efforts to recover. Tracy spends time in nature as a ranger in Alaska. Engaging with nature is part of the solution to her recovery. She goes through many relationships and several marriages; one of them was abusive. Eventually becoming a mother. Tracy's motherhood and her experiences in nature gave her the ability to become a writer on a national magazine and to author this book. "The Source of All Things" is a fast entertaining story about a woman who endures a terrible start to life and achieves success after a long search.
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Saloma More than 1 year ago
Tracy Ross's story is a difficult, yet rewarding read, perhaps not unlike her life journey. What a confusing and bewildering relationship she had with her stepfather! And her mother! Ross really got me to care about her, as she shared her healing journey. Good for her for not looking away, even though she was being asked to do so by her family. Courageous and vibrant, Ross tells the story in a way that felt I was there with her... if only someone could have been... to advocate for her when she had no other advocates and could not yet advocate for herself. There were several times that Ross did things as an adult that I was saying "Nooooo, don't do that!" One example is when she allowed her father to be there for her in the hospital when she had major surgery. He was keeping her medicated for the pain... but probably also for his own reasons. After all that Ross had endured with her parents, I was mortified that she ever left her two children with them. It seemed that she had a desire to trust her parents, even though there were all kinds of reasons not to. Sometimes sound judgment comes in handy, and at times I felt Ross could use more if it. At other times (when she trusted it), she put her sound judgment to good use. Overall, this was a well-written book. Tracy is a gutsy powerhouse of a woman. Good for her!
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Lynn_C_Tolson More than 1 year ago
The Source of All Things by Tracy Ross is literally and figuratively a healing journey. Ross embraces the wilderness as the vehicle that transports her from victim to survivor. Along the way, Ross seeks to make sense of the child sexual abuse she experienced. There may be maps to navigate the natural world, but no directions for exploring the alien territory of abuse. In the aftermath of her biological father's sudden death, Ross' mother marries a man who becomes devoted to her children. At four-years-old, Tracy adores her step-father, who protects her, provides for her, and engages her in outdoor sports, hiking trails, and camping trips. By the time Tracy is eight-years-old, her step-father is also molesting her. He infiltrated a vulnerable family, and advanced on the girl like a vulture. Yet her mother is depressed and disengaged from the family unit, so many steps behind the reality of what her husband is doing that she never catches up to meet Tracy's needs. At sixteen-years-old, Tracy is strong enough to fulfill her own need for surviving abuse and betrayals. She enters a boarding school and embarks on wilderness adventures. Sometimes these travels require risking her life. Other times, Tracy finds comforts in nature that manage her self-destructive behavior. Child sexual abuse violates boundaries, and trekking through mountain valleys and desert floors offer boundless opportunities for Tracy's hope and healing. Chapter 21, titled "Shooting Stars (or Birth Stories) reveals to the reader how child sexual abuse may affect every area of a victim's life, including marriage, pregnancy, birth, and parenting. There are no clear paths to healing these wounds; Tracy uses nature like others use art or music. Tracy confronts her step-father about thirty years after the sexual assaults. She takes him back to the source, where the abuse first occurred. As he admits to abusing her, she questions if she could forgive him. She writes, "Love cuts with a serrated blade, and there are shreds of my feelings that form an unbreakable bond to my parents." This is my point of departure, where I wonder just how much compassion a survivor of child abuse has to exert for a confirmed sexual predator. This memoir is well-written and well worth reading. A victim may see that he/she is not alone in the conflicting emotions and ambivalent feelings. Ross shows great courage in telling her story to bring awareness to the absolute devastation of child sexual abuse, and the long journey of recovery.
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KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
A memoir that was I excited to receive, but was disappointed as I read it. A story of abuse and forgiveness, but I had the hardest time wrapping my head around the events that happened in this woman's life. At many points I had to continue to remind myself that this was a true story and this woman exists. As a whole I enjoyed the book. I didn't understand her ability to forget and allow her parents to continue on unpunished and unaffected by the events that happened in her family. They were able to sweep everything under the rug - how? The other thing that threw me for a loop was her moving around - she moved and moved and moved. I don't know what I would have done, were I in her situation, but the constant moving would have made me go bonkers. Because I didn't understand how the family worked, I didn't care so much for the book. I respect the fact that it is a memoir and true, but I just couldn't enjoy the book. I would recommend it to those who enjoy memoirs - this one will be hard to get through at times due to the subject of the book.