The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


Michelle Dowd — Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult

Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult: A Memoir (book cover)

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.

Michelle Dowd (photo by Noel Besuzzi)

Michelle Dowd is a professor of journalism at Chaffey College and contributor to The New York Times, Alpinist, The Los Angeles Book Review, Catapult, OnlySky, 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 grew up in a family cult called “The Field,” located in a compound in the Angeles Forest outside of Los Angeles. After escaping the cult she found her way into college, earning a degree from the prestigious liberal-arts Pitzer College, then went on to earn a graduate degree from the University of Boulder. Her memoir is Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode was released on June 18, 2024.

Skeptic Magazine App on iPhone


Whether at home or on the go, the SKEPTIC App is the easiest way to read your favorite articles. Within the app, users can purchase the current issue and back issues. Download the app today and get a 30-day free trial subscription.

Download the Skeptic Magazine App for iOS, available on the App Store
Download the Skeptic Magazine App for Android, available on Google Play
SKEPTIC • 3938 State St., Suite 101, Santa Barbara, CA, 93105-3114 • 1-805-576-9396 • Copyright © 1992–2024. All rights reserved • Privacy Policy