The Source of All Things: A Memoir
  • The Source of All Things: A Memoir
  • The Source of All Things: A Memoir

The Source of All Things: A Memoir

3.8 17
by Tracy Ross

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Tracy Ross never knew her biological father, who died after a brain aneurysm when she was still an infant. So when her mother married Donnie, a gregarious man with an all-wheel-drive jeep and a love of hiking, four-year-old Tracy was ecstatic to have a father figure in her life. A loving and devoted step-father, Donnie introduced Tracy’s family to the…  See more details below


Tracy Ross never knew her biological father, who died after a brain aneurysm when she was still an infant. So when her mother married Donnie, a gregarious man with an all-wheel-drive jeep and a love of hiking, four-year-old Tracy was ecstatic to have a father figure in her life. A loving and devoted step-father, Donnie introduced Tracy’s family to the joys of fishing, deer hunting, camping, and hiking among the most pristine mountains of rural Idaho. Donnie was everything Tracy dreamed a dad would be—protective, brave, and kind. But when his dependence on his eight-year-old daughter’s companionship went too far, everything changed.

Once Donnie’s nighttime visits began, Tracy’s childhood became a confusing blend of normal little girl moments and the sickening, secret invasion of her safety. Tormented by this profound betrayal, Tracy struggled to reconcile deeply conflicting feelings about her stepfather: on the one hand, fear and loathing, on the other hand, the love any daughter would have for her father. It was not until she ran away from home as a teenager that her family was forced to confront the abuse—and it tore them apart.

At sixteen, realizing that she must take control of her own future, Tracy sent herself to boarding school and began the long slow process of recovery. There, in the woods of Northern Michigan, Tracy felt called back to the natural world she had loved as a child. Over the next twenty years, the mountains and rivers of North America provided Tracy with strength, confidence, comfort, and inspiration. From trekking through the glaciers of Alaska to guiding teenagers through the deserts of Utah, Tracy pushed herself to the physical limit on her way to becoming whole again. Yet, as she came into her own, found love, and even started a family, Tracy realized that in order to truly heal she had to confront her stepfather about the demons from the past haunting them both. The Source of All Things is a stunning, unforgettable story about a wounded daughter, her stepfather, and a mistake that has taken thirty years and thousands of miles of raw wilderness to reconcile. Only Tracy can know if Donnie is forgivable. But one thing is for certain: In no other story of abuse does a survivor have as much strength, compassion, bravery, and spirit as Tracy displays in The Source of All Things

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Editorial Reviews

Tracy Ross never knew another dad. Her biological father died when she was just seven months old, so the arrival of a stepfather four years later seemed to fill an empty spot in her life. For years, she thrived on his presence and the trips the family took in the unspoiled mountain wilderness of Idaho. All that changed suddenly when she was eight. As if awakening into a nightmare, she experienced the first of dozens of sexual attacks by the man she most trusted. This piercing memoir recalls those nighttime visits, but stretches far beyond those loathsome moments, recounting the emotional struggles that Tracy experienced even into her adult years. In a poignant section, she recreates the recent meeting in which she confronted her betrayer. An unforgettable memoir of a brave woman's recovery.

Product Details

Free Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

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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

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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.