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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

The Source of All Things

Recently released as a full-length memoir, The Source of All Things was first published as a feature article in BACKPACKER in December 2007. This is the full-text of that article.

by: Tracy Ross

Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi

The Source of All Things Cover Image

Now a full-length memoir, The Source of All Things by Tracy Ross is available from Amazon.com and other booksellers.

Mid-conversation, I flash to a moment my dad would have loved: soaking in the kettle ponds hidden in the muskeg below 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley. Maybe I think of him out of gratitude, for showing me how wilderness can shape and define. Maybe it's just the hazy mellowing of distance and time. But by September, when I leave Alaska for the Lower 48, I am ready to embrace the world—and perhaps even my father.

It would be great if a few years in the wilderness could wipe away our pain. But of course it isn't that easy. For a long time, through my late 20s and into my 30s, my dad and I airbrushed the abuse out of our family photo. We got so good at pretending, we almost convinced ourselves that we had moved on.

Truth is, my dad and I got on well together—in part because he tried hard to be good and normal again. He flew to Anchorage once, when I needed a partner to drive with down the Alcan Highway, too scared of the frost heaves and endless stretches of road between gas stations to do it alone. Over the years, he has given me cash and co-signed on cars. He has picked up the phone when I called to talk about my loneliness—or the weather—at 3 a.m. And it is he, not my mother, who has saved all of my stories, in big, black binders at home.

We have, as they say in psychotherapy circles, reconstructed our house of relationship. In 2000, he came to see the ultrasound of my first baby. When Scout was born, and 16 months later, Hatcher, my dad found a new reason to live. Indeed, my sons have become the brightest spot in his diminished life, and they love him acutely. He even babysits when my husband and I go skiing at Whistler for a week.

This easing of relations was good for my dad, and easy for me. But I still didn't trust him—not completely.

"I can't do this," I tell my husband. "I can't hold up the weight." I am lying on a trail with my legs twisted in my mountain bike, and I can't force myself to get up.

It's Memorial Day, 2006. We are riding down Winiger Ridge when I miss a turn and grind into the dirt. The sun is shining on tight blue buds that will soon flower across hillsides covered in sage. The boys are at home with a babysitter. I am falling apart.

"What happened?" my husband asks. "You were flying back there. You looked good."

Most things are looking good these days. After Alaska, I moved to Winter Park, Colorado, and skied five days a week. I kept writing, too, and landed a position at a big magazine. I live on two wooded acres at 8,500 feet on the outskirts of Boulder. My family hikes out the front door. On summer nights, we sit on our deck and watch satellites cross the sky, and in the winter, with snow blanketing the ground, we listen to a quiet so vast it creates its own sound.

And yet the weight had crept back, so heavy I felt it would crush me.



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Maelduin
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"It never happened with boys", yet your brother set a cat on fire and threw it in the river? I think you need to talk to your brother about what may have happened to him in secret.
I salute your courage and grace in writing this.

Maria
Oct 14, 2012

Tracy: I am so sorry for what you have been through. However, I really don't think you should have any dealings with this man. He raped you; a child. There are no excuses. It should negate anything positive he ever did. He belongs in jail, as does your mother and anyone else who knew anything about it. tDo not let him babysit your kids. Do not have anything to do with him.

Victoria
Dec 03, 2011

When I first read this article on the train in 2008, it really hit home. It still hits home. Thank you Tracy for being brave enough to face him and tell the story. I don't feel as alone with the "secret" that I keep.

Kimberly collaso
Aug 31, 2011

How could you let him babysit your kids?!!?!?

Chris
Apr 29, 2011

Great stuff. Saw yr interview and googled this article. Have lived and hiked in AK, CO, ME, where I camped with my prime abuser. Have been working things through with that person past 3 yrs, and writing about it. Helps, and things are better. Keep it up. God bless.

Deb
Apr 28, 2011

For you who don't think her story shouldn't have been in this magazine, I think things happen for a reason. Maybe her story reached out to someone in need,

Dave Morris
Feb 23, 2011

Beautiful writing Tracy. I hope you are well.

Joy Martinez-Stranksy
Jan 21, 2011

Congratulations Trace, you finally did it.

Tira Scott
May 30, 2009

The beauty and honesty of Tracy's journey is as breathtaking and awe inspiring as the Sawtooth Mountains themselves. Bravo to this brave author, couragous yet as lovely and delicate as a robin's egg. Her story belongs here because humans and nature go together. Both are as delicate as a spring trillium and as dangerous as an avalanche. Bravo Tracy... Keep writing, it is your gift to others.

sk
May 14, 2009

Brilliant imagery & searing pain - one of the most well written and touching stories, I've read in a long time.


gen
May 14, 2009

wretched story, but beautifully written. Really captures the essence of growing up in southern idaho, as well as hiking and camping around red fish lake. I've been gone a long time, and didn't know they had succeeded in getting some salmon back in redfish. Fantastic!

Joseph Kennedy
May 11, 2009

The last reader is right. It deals with an ugly topic. This is story that does not belong here. In fact, it does not belong anywhere. No one should have to tell it. But she did and with grace and courage. Showing how the living a independent and active life outdoors helped her overcome anger and hate. And gave her the strength to confront her former abuser with calm restraint. Thank you, Tracy. I now have a new favorite writer.

Shauna Marsh
May 03, 2009

I think this is a phenomenal story. Thank you for sharing it. For those who do not think think this magazine is an appropriate place for it- you have a choice. Do not read it.

Susan
May 02, 2009

Congratulations on your win and telling your story. I, too, was a victim of rape and abuse. You are a strong woman, and I wish you respite from the demons.

alex
May 02, 2009

congratulation. a have spent the last hour reading your essay, written in a foreign language for me.

michaeldraznin
May 01, 2009

congrat's on the win this evening. must be something of a mixed experience, but wonderful nonetheless. wish i could read the article in its entirety on Backpacker.com. unfortunately, it seems to be only partially available...at least for my browser. that aside, well done!

Jody Reale
May 01, 2009

Yes.

Nick City Reprise
Apr 24, 2009

This article was really well done, great use of the word maw. With twitter stealing news clips before you can even get a good lead-in sentence, this is how writing is going to need to be in the future. I know what the trails look like but this article is about much more than hiking, great gonzo style.

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