"Looking back on my struggle to find my father, I began to understand my quest as part of a bigger human drive. My journey triggered by my desire to have children, but whether we reproduce or not, the need to understand where we come from is universal. It's just part of the human process, like learning to talk, or to jump. We have an instinct to tell the story of our past, to understand what came before, to try to make sense of it." - Novella Carpenter
I love to read memoirs that chronicle the searches that people undertake for healing and understanding in their lives. In Novella Carpenter's "Gone Feral: Tracking My Dad Through the Wild" she searches to better understand her elusive, erratic father, George Carpenter, whose moods, beliefs and lifestyle baffle her. Her parents divorced when she was only four years old, and she spent a lifetime becoming more and more estranged from her father.
Novella's search for her father begins because she gets a message from her mother that her father is missing. Her mom's commentary on George's disappearance is "weird, huh?" Novella reasons with herself that she "had always accepted, or at least didn't dwell on, his absence, but now that he had disappeared in such a dramatic, tangible way, [she] felt compelled to find him." After days of worrying over never seeing her father again, Novella receives an email from him that he's alive and well in Arizona, but as she processes the news of her father's unintended disappearance, she decides that she needs to "make things right with her dad" because she has a "breeding plan" and wants to figure out what happened with her parents. Why was her dad the way he was? Could they reconcile or rebuild a relationship?
She crafts a quick email to her dad which says, "This whole missing person thing made me realize how much I would regret it if we don't have some meaningful time together. I would love to stay with you and learn some mountain man skills, or just go fly-fishing. I love you dad and love your spirit, I know it flows in me."
In this story of discovery, Novella discovers ugly truths about her father - his hot temper, his suicidal tendencies, his ramshackle life in a run down shack of a cabin, and his increasingly crazy and anti-social behavior. She also starts to see herself more clearly - how her mom and dad's ideals are also some of her own. She starts to take a harder look at the life she lives surrounded by goats, urban farming and her love of growing plants on a plot of abandoned land next to her rented home, her hoarding tendencies, and her uncompromising viewpoints. She realizes that the life her parents dreamed for her when they were young parents - a feral existence of living off of the land, and how they arrived at their beliefs about how to raise two little girls off of the land in Idaho - mirror some of her own philosophies about life. She sees this as "rhyming the past" rather than repeating it. Our parents run through our veins whether we like it or not.
I loved Novella's search for her father which really led her to a discovery of herself and more of a clear picture of not only her parent's paths in life, but how she became who she is. She notices the subtleties of life around her and has a keen sense of the natural world (just like her father and mother), and she can profoundly declare the truths of existence in a way that clarifies life. My favorite passage of the book comes close to the end:
Families are like ecosystems. They begin looking one way, but as the years tick by, the inhabitants change. Some grow and flourish, others are wounded. They might rebound, or die. Nests are built and young are raised, then the fledglings leave. When disaster hits, only the adaptable survive. In my family, there were constants that added a certain texture to our family's ecosystem: love of language, of reading. A tendency toward living on the fringes. A hot rage that burns inside of us, and sometimes threatens ourselves and others. Sensitivity, a sense of the incredible power and beauty in the natural world. A love of the numinous so powerful that it mesmerizes and inspires us. We are craggy and hard; intense and uncompromising . . . Every movement, every act, is a meditation on those who came before us.
These are HUGE realizations that many people choose to ignore in their lives. As I read this book I thought about my own father and mother - who they are as people and how they shaped the person that I am and the person that I still hope to be.
If you've never asked yourself what constants are in your family or who you are because of (and in despite of) your parents, this book will make you confront those questions and take the journey to discover yourself as you discover what you love and despise about your mom and dad equally run through your veins.