In the summer of 2005, Mardi Jo Link’s broken-down life bore no resemblance to the happy-go-lucky farm life she’d wished for—and read about—as a girl. Instead, her marriage has just unraveled, her soon-to-be ex-husband is living across the street, her bank account is “practically uninhabited” and her three sons are confused, angry and sad. Flying in the face of such brokenness, however, Link steadfastly claims her “sons, the debt, the horses, the dogs, the land, the century-old farmhouse, the garden, the woods, the pasture, and the barn.”
Over the course of one harrowing year, Link struggles to keep her family and her farm together any way she can. In Bootstrapper, her riveting recollection of her year of living raggedly, she details not only her family’s descent into the ravages of near-starvation, the loss of beloved farm animals and the necessity of killing their own livestock for food, but also the slow, moment-by-moment ascent into a life marked by the hope of a new spring, the wonders of nature and the miracle of love and passion. At the beginning of the book, she realizes that she and her sons are one step away from losing everything. In fact, just two months after she sets out on this journey alone, her beloved horse, Major, is hit by a car. As Link cradles his head and watches his life slip slowly away, she feels a devastating loneliness. Yet she also recognizes the “limitless space of the human heart” to hold love and eventually to conquer that loneliness.
The lessons her family learns sometimes come at odd times. Once, as Link and her oldest son, Owen, are driving down the road, a wild turkey flies into the car’s windshield. She has him stop the car, not to inspect for damage but to see whether or not the turkey is dead so they can take it home for dinner. Link realizes that she has begun to “look at nature in a brand-new way—as something to eat.”
Eventually, glimmers of grace begin to peek through the holes in Link’s ravaged life. At one point she pauses to recount their victories from the past year, which include “standing among prize-winning zucchinis, looking up at the stars during a winter campfire in the valley, decorating our Christmas tree, triumphing over thundersnow, ordering chickens from a catalog.” She also receives an unexpected call from Pete, the contractor who’s remodeling her house, and launches out on a new life with him.
Hilarious, wrenching and heartwarming, Link’s poignant memoir chronicles one woman’s determination to discover meaning and wholeness in the midst of brokenness. It’s almost as if Cheryl Strayed had stayed down on the farm instead of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.