OM Times / Irene O'Garden: How My Wilderness Adventure Healed My Childhood
March 05

OM Times / Irene O'Garden: How My Wilderness Adventure Healed My Childhood

Noted writer Irene O’Garden grew up in what seemed like the perfect American Midwestern family. Behind the scenes, however, it was anything but. In Risking the Rapids (Mango Publishing January 31, 2019), O’Garden’s revelatory account tells us of shocking cruelty, narcissism, neglect and the damage done to children of alcoholics. From her traumatic girlhood to her healing wilderness journey at age 62, O’Garden’s writing will grip you and hold you fast to this extraordinary story.

An Interview with Irene O’Garden – How My Wilderness Adventure Healed My Childhood

Risking the Rapids opens with the shocking death of O’Garden’s problematic older brother in 2014. His early passing prompted her and other family members to seek emotional closure with him and their family past by journeying through the remotest area in the lower forty-eight, Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. What was described as a genial river “float” became a harrowing whitewater experience?

That chronicle is woven with the story of her upbringing in a repressed mid-century Midwest Catholic household with six other siblings, a TV personality father, an icy mother, and rivers of martinis. And surprising love. It’s the kind of absorbing literary journey readers relish.


OMTIMES: What did you take away from the river ride?

Irene O’Garden: Like family, wilderness requires participation and cooperation. The reward of both is a feeling of communion. While I certainly felt a powerful sense of accomplishment, I cherish this trip for how it strengthened family bonds not only with my blood relatives but with our larger family of living things that only wilderness can reveal.

OMTIMES: How do you describe your childhood?

Irene O’Garden: I was born in the middle. In the middle of seven children, in a mid-size city in the middle of the country, in the middle class, in the middle of the twentieth century. In a leafy neighborhood neither urban nor suburban. In the middle of surprising anxieties, given the idyllic qualities a mid-century childhood afforded: freedom, autonomy, solitude. I grew up in a repressed and competitive Catholic household with a TV-personality father, an icy mother, and rivers of martinis.

Our parents never beat us. We had enough to eat and wear. But one brother cut all his pictures out of the family scrapbook. Another brother committed to a madhouse. Another hamstrung in a hierarchy; another crippled by pain. One sister suffered and drank, one sister trembled in fear. I ate myself upwards of 200 pounds. I started writing to explore why—a sort of Family CSI.

OMTIMES: Who came up with the idea to take the trip?

Irene O’Garden: My younger brother Jim when we were at our brother’s memorial service. Jim goes every summer. He and his boys had already planned this “float trip” and we decided to go together when we all gathered for the memorial service.

OMTIMES: Had you ever done anything like this before?

Irene O’Garden: Never. I had gone tubing on the Delaware River for an hour; the most camping I had done was asa child, on a two-night Girl Scout trip.

OMTIMES: What did you discover about navigating a raft between rocks – how it is like meditating?

Irene O’Garden: The purpose of meditation is to be fully present in the moment. If you are not fully present whilenavigating through rocks and hard places you or those you love could be badly injured.

OMTIMES: What does “float on the river” as your brother called the trip, mean to you now (Get buzzed and shoot some rapids!)?

Irene O’Garden: I will laugh whenever I hear that phrase, knowing it can conceal a world of wracked nerves.

OMTIMES: Did you ever fear for your life?

Irene O’Garden: There were many scary moments, but the most vulnerable I felt was after the hardest rainiest, the stormiest day on the river when we finally got a campsite, my sister and I crouched in our tent as a gigantic thunderstorm came crashing through the mountains, bolting lightning, rocking our tent and nearly ripping it away. That thin bit of nylon flapping between us and the elements seemed pretty flimsy.

OMTIMES: How did you as a family feel as you went on your own back to your lives?

Irene O’Garden: I think we were all proud of ourselves for doing so well, for being so helpful and loving to each other on a trip that was more challenging than any of us ever anticipated.

OMTIMES:  You write you are a soul who relishes choices. What does this mean to your life and how do you decide what choices in a world of so many, work for you?

Irene O’Garden: I’m a curious person, who likes to explore and experience variety. I enjoy many avenues of creative expression.

I rely on my impulses and intuition to steer me toward fulfillment.

OMTIMES: Given you couldn’t turn back and had to make it all the way, how did that change how you responded to the situations?

Irene O’Garden: Certain emotions like resentment or anger were of no use. Even fear wasn’t all that helpful. This isn’t to say I didn’t experience them, just that as they arose I let them go as quickly as they came so as not to interfere with the very real business of surviving. We had enough to carry as it was. Also, I loved these people.

OMTIMES: What can you say about teamwork/trauma and how it works for a family?

Irene O’Garden: It’s clear the splendor of the terror and the trauma of this journey was the teamwork—wellexperienced and strong family members all doing their best to assist and protect each other. Utterly depending and dependent on each other.


Original post here!