Down from the Mountaintop
2016 Saroyan Prize Shortlist
“Joshua Doležal traces the map of his life with the instincts of a poet and the sure direction of a cartographer. Intimate and lyrical, his story is one of fallen faith, found love, and the way we must sometimes circle back to find what we have lost.”—Kim Barnes, author, In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country
“Down from the Mountaintop is a tender and generous memoir of a boy’s awakening into young manhood. Joshua Doležal’s luminous prose evokes the natural beauty of western Montana, the spirituality implicit in that beauty, and the complexities and enduring power in the bonds of family.”—Mary Clearman Blew, author, This Is Not the Ivy League
“From a mountaintop childhood of baseball, the Bible, huckleberry picking, and revival meetings, Joshua Doležal narrates his story of outmigration. Yet, even as he recounts his escape, the high rugged home lives irrevocably inside Doležal, just as it will haunt the reader after experiencing this lush, transporting, and heartfelt memoir.”—Debra Marquart, author, The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere
A lyrical coming-of-age memoir, Down from the Mountaintop chronicles a quest for belonging. Raised in northwestern Montana by Pentecostal homesteaders whose twenty-year experiment in subsistence living was closely tied to their faith, Joshua Doležal experienced a childhood marked equally by his parents’ quest for spiritual transcendence and the surrounding Rocky Mountain landscape. Unable to fully embrace the fundamentalism of his parents, he began to search for religious experience elsewhere: in baseball, books, and weightlifting, then later in migrations to Tennessee, Nebraska, and Uruguay. Yet even as he sought to understand his place in the world, he continued to yearn for his mountain home.
For more than a decade, Doležal taught in the Midwest throughout the school year but returned to Montana and Idaho in the summers to work as a firefighter and wilderness ranger. He reveled in the life of the body and the purifying effects of isolation and nature, believing he had found transcendence. Yet his summers tied him even more to the mountain landscape, fueling his sense of exile on the plains.
It took falling in love, marrying, and starting a family in Iowa to allow Doležal to fully examine his desire for a spiritual mountaintop from which to view the world. In doing so, he undergoes a fundamental redefinition of the nature of home and belonging. He learns to accept the plains on their own terms, moving from condemnation to acceptance and from isolation to community. Coming down from the mountaintop means opening himself to relationships, grounding himself as a husband, father, and gardener who learns that where things grow, the grower also takes root.