by Karen Merriam
(Truthsayer Press, 166 pp.)

In Searching for Connection: An Exploration of Trauma, Culture and Hope, local author Karen Merriam explores the nature of human trauma when something goes terribly wrong and environmental trauma when terrible wrongs are perpetrated by people who have lost their connection to themselves and the earth.

“The warning is clear: it is a dangerous luxury, no longer affordable, to hold onto the belief that the violence and losses occurring in the natural environment are unrelated to the violence and losses occurring in the human community.” (p. 132)

Merriam, a psychotherapist specializing in the field of trauma for more than thirty years, directed the Trauma Research Center of Seattle and has lectured on trauma across the country. Currently she trains crisis intervention volunteers at Hospice of San Luis Obispo County and is the local chair of the Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club. For several years she served on a search and rescue team with her English cocker spaniel Babe.

The book opens with Karen and Babe at the rescue of an old man who is disoriented and becomes lost in a forest in our county. He symbolizes human vulnerability, of the trauma that can, potentially, overwhelm any human life at any time.

Merriam’s book engages readers with her wealth of personal experiences interspersed with inspirational narratives from Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Natan Sharansky’s Fear No Evil, Gretel Ehrlich’s A Match to the Heart, and Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, and Oliver Sacks’ A Leg to Stand On. Merriam braids together the common features of these stories to illuminate what it takes to survive catastrophic injury and to recover one’s peace of mind.

Karen Merriam moves from the impact of trauma on the individual to the tragic loss of connection between man and the natural world, bringing it home to San Luis Obispo. She tells the story of a mother driving her eight-year-old son by the smallest morro of the Seven Sisters.
“As the boy let his gaze rise to the familiar contours of the hill, he let out a cry and began to weep with grief. While he had been at school, bulldozers had carved away a large section of the side of the hill to prepare for a housing development. The sight of the deep gash, the wound in the torso of the hill, caused the boy real pain. He felt the cut in the earth as though he or someone he loved had been injured.” (p. 133)

This connection with the earth needs to be protected in children and regained in adults. As Merriam says, the search for connection is urgent. She quotes Nelson Mandela’s description of his prison experience, “Some mornings I walked out into the courtyard and every living thing there, the seagulls and wagtails, the small trees and even the stray blades of grass seemed to smile and shine in the sun. It was at such times when I perceived the beauty of even this small, closed-in corner of the world that I knew someday my people and I would be free.”

“Merriam presents a holistic perspective that artfully relates trauma, culture and the challenges of the global community. She has introduced a new area for research and reflection relating the alienation of human beings from the natural world and the rise of violence that she believes threatens the world order, potentially on an apocalyptic scale,” according to Francis Gunn of the APA.

The compelling stories and ideas presented provide both a comforting and provocative guide for individuals on their personal and environmental paths. Additional information is available at or by contacting Karen Merriam at [email protected]

Reviewed by Jeanie Greensfelder, who is a free lance writer and psychologist.