"The Forest House", Joelle Fraser
by: Mike Medberry
Published: April 14, 2013
Joelle Fraser’s The Forest House, is a memoir about raising her son in woodlands outside Susanville, California when she moves into a remote house in the mountains. She shares Dylan, her son, with her former husband but feels intensely the loss of the boy each time she shares him with her ex. She had left her husband for, well, for reasons, and she feels guilty about that. Fraser describes her profound loneliness for her son with their 50-50 custody, and what this solitude feels like. It is both harsh and beautiful.
Ms. Fraser focuses on the natural environment around her house and the physical challenges that she overcomes in living close to the land. Listen to this from the first chapter of the book: “…flakes of snow would begin to drift down from the sky, obscuring my tracks both behind and ahead, the evidence of my coming and going, and I would feel an otherworldly sense of being neither here nor there, but always in between. It was not just moving from one place to another, but moving from one part of myself to another.” It is this in-betweenness that characterizes the books soul and Fraser’s. Fraser writes further: “I’m the type who misses Oregon because they pump your gas for you. I’ve always been dependent on others, mostly men, to take care of the practical things.” This frank mixture of comedy and truth defines her style.
As the book progresses, Fraser figures out plenty of things for herself—from fire building to getting a friend’s car up a steep hill--and learns to be more self-reliant and broadly compassionate over the course of a year. She is growing a little older but a lot more comfortable with herself, as she faces the mirror of the rugged and sublime land around her. Now the forest is within her as she becomes more independent and free to be who she is.
Mike Medberry has served as a senior environmentalist for several local and national conservation organizations and holds an MFA from the University of Washington. Over the past twenty years he has written nonfiction for Northern Lights Journal, High Country News, Black Canyon Quarterly, Hooked on the Outdoors, Stroke Connection and the e-magazine Writer’s Workshop, as well as short fiction.