Whether or not it is possible for Sam Gribley to leave home at 16 and live off the land is something we can ask on our own. Needless to say, at one point in our lives we wished to go out on an adventure. Jean Craighead George is a nature lover. The two novels I’ve read of hers reflect her love of nature and respect for it. Sam Gribely leaves his crowded life to move in Catskill Mountain. His goal was to live off the land.
It isn’t easy and the author doesn’t make it sound easy. He had to deal with a few challenges, but with his perseverance and creativity, we vicariously learn a thing or two about living in the wilderness. The book is written in the first person. Sam tells us what he has done to sustain life for a year on his own in the wilderness.
Reading through this book, I felt I wanted to pack my bags and go off to the mountains and sustain myself with mother nature’s gifts of nuts, game, fruit, and herbs. Then again, living in the Philippines we also know that leaves from this plant and that plant can be used to make tea or flavor any soup and meat. Yet, I also do wonder how much courage it would take a person to jump into such a life. Needless to say, the protagonist of this novel is courageous.
Compared to Julie of the Wolves, this book was a little more distant from the emotions. There were mention of loneliness and trying to connect by naming the animals around him, however the connections weren’t as pronounce and moving as that of Julie and her pack. The human guests/strangers that came to Sam’s tree door however were a touch of humor. The interactions present interesting perspective to various purposes of human connection. My favorite of his sudden guest was Bando (a nickname Sam gave his guest when he thought he was a bandit), a lost English Literature Professor out on a hike. Bando calls Sam, Thoreau. It was a salute to Walden with a similar theme as My Side of the Mountain. However, my quibble about this was for a children’s book the appreciation for this little nickname may be lost and I felt, maybe, unnecessary. Then again, maybe it’s the author little inside joke.
In the end, as Sam lives through Summer, Fall and Winter the need for isolation ebbs with the snow. He ponders over the question of whether or not he wanted to be found. It is here we realize a simple truth: Man is not an Island. Despite isolation and his close relations with his falcon and other animals, his encounter with human beings brought out a spark in him. Hence, like all things the challenge has nothing to do with living off the land or coming back to the pre-capitalist times; the challenge is finding that balance. And I suppose, the ending gives us a sort of balance to this.
This book is for an older reader of maybe 10 to 12 who loves nature and discovery.