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When I was at the tender young age of eight, a child who’d just been advanced a grade and feeling out of place, a book was recommended to me.  It was My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.  The story of a young man who runs away from home to live in the woods, it changed my life forever.

A 1960 recipient of the Newberry Medal, My Side describes the ways in which young Sam Gribley, a twelve-year-old who tires of the city life, survives on the abandoned farm of his great-grandfather.  Living in a hollowed-out oak tree, young Sam trains a falcon and lives off the land for a year before finally being joined by his family who also eschew the life of a cramped apartment.

My Side opened my eyes to a whole new world; one in which a disenfranchised, neglected young man was free to make his own way.  A world where one wasn’t a slave to society, but rather was able to escape the modern world and return to a life of simplicity and sustenance.  This book entered my life at a turbulent time.  My grandfather had just passed away, I was found to be a “gifted” child, and I had lost all my friends upon being advanced a grade in school.  I was tired of life already, and I wasn’t even ten.  My Side showed me that I didn’t have to live in that world.  I was free to escape into a land where I was in charge and no others were to be seen.  From this book was spawned a love of gardening, a love of reading, and a love of being an independent, free-thinking individual.  My Side of the Mountain changed my life and made me the adult I am today.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My son loved the book (9+ / 0-)

    I read My Side to my son a couple years ago, when he was 10 and he was absolutely spellbound: a peregrine falcon, raccoons, survival, bandits, fire!

    In South Louisiana, where I grew up, wildlife and swampy wilderness were part of life. From an early age my friends and I would hike out and not return for several days--fishing, hunting, trapping and "living off the land" was singularly exciting. Of course, we were more like Thoreau than Sam Gribley, only a two or three mile walk from a hot meal, dry clothes, and family.

    My Side was not a book I read as a child, but I came to it late in life through my nephews and later still introduced it to my son. I had always taken from it the need to have a balance between nature and nurture, or company and solitude.

    There are still parts of this country where kids--if they so desire--can escape for a while. I wonder, though, are they apt to? With our devices and willingness to be available 24/7, it must be harder for each younger generation to cut those ties that bind and focus on one's very personal relationship with the living nature around us.

    Thanks for a heartfelt reminder of how important children's books can be to our lives and how vital imagination is to personal growth.

    •  Thanks, P Carey, for your thoughtful comment (6+ / 0-)

      You know, I wonder that too...whether anyone, young or old, is interested enough in the natural world  to disengage from the Net voluntarily.

      Have you been watching or listening to the news reports lately?  There's a solitary hiker stranded on a mountain in Washington state whose cellphone GPS failed, much to the detriment of those who would rescue him, because he kept updating his Facebook status and the battery died!

      BTW, for the record, I for one am not willing to be available 24/7.  I'm having our land line disconnected tomorrow.  I'm so tired of the unwanted telephone calls!  I get more now than before I joined the "Do Not Call" list.  And it was supposed to be an unlisted number anyway--arggh!

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 05:40:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Quite a few in my Millenial generation (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa, koosah, Brecht

      Are all about backpacking, living off the land, traveling, and onward. Many of them were those whom I went to school with, some are recently returned from travels. Some have been in Peace Corps, others just living abroad. They backpack, hitchhike, wonder, get lost, and sustain for months to a year. Meeting people. Learning names. Taking photographs. Seeing the world. Apt? Are you kidding? They're pros, as far as I'm concerned!

      Me, I haven't been away from my area (I even went to college near where I was raised) for more than about two weeks. Most recently, I went to Turkey this spring. And loved it! I would go back in a heartbeat. For now, it seems the only strategy has been to save enough money and take a couple of weeks off, but then you inevitably have to come back to your mundanity. Sometimes mundanity and permanence is nice. Other times, I sense how fragile it actually is. It's intimidating to leave the boiling pot when the water is warm, when you plod along the Western lifestyle, trying to earn a living, amidst its impact to climate change and other environmental hazards of today; but I have thought often over the past year about doing some heavy, long-term travels. Maybe sell most of my possessions and go off, with my girlfriend. For as much as we as a species love civilization, part of me can't help but seriously challenge these notions I was born into, partly because the changing climate is swinging the pendulum from permanence to transience.

      "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

      by rovertheoctopus on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 07:19:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting comment, rover! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I for one hope you and your girlfriend will indeed be able to travel as you wish.

        Your comment reminds me of my friend L., who went to Australia for a month with her best friend.  The two young women stayed in youth hostels in the cities, of course, and spent a considerable time hiking around the outback.  When L. came home she wanted to sell or give away ALL her possessions and get rid of her car.  Her friends dissuaded her from doing this, but with some difficulty.

        It's true that travel gives you a completely different perspective on things.  Our visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 2001 changed my thinking forever.

        At 21, I set off for a four-month odyssey around England, the country of my heart.  I was so obsessed with T. E. Lawrence I had to see for myself everywhere he lived and studied.  Along the way I also visited the stamping grounds of my favorite writers--Charlotte Bronte, Keats, and so on.

        All the best to you, rovertheoctopus!  And if you do set off to travel the Silk Road to Samarkand or the equivalent thereof, please come back here and tell us about it!

        "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

        by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 07:31:35 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's sort of ironic, really (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          P Carey, Diana in NoVa

          As a child, I was a bit of nerd (actually, a huge nerd.) I would voluntarily ask my parents and "Santa" for atlases for Christmases and birthdays. Lots and lots of youth-friendly science books (DK was very good in this area), encyclopedias, globes, maps, flags, human anatomy books, the Bell Telephone 1950's cartoon videos about all kinds of science... All of that just opened my eyes so massively. I would sit at our Macintosh computer growing up for hours, captivated and getting lost in this program called "3D Atlas" (among many other programs), just listening to spacey, tribal, non-lyrical music pulsate calmly all the while I spun that virtual globe and looked at all the pictures, cities, flags, the intricate geography, the flyovers through the Siberian forests. All the inlets, the coves, the bluffs, the ravines, arroyos, shoals, gulfs, bays, tombolos, volcanoes... It just moved me, as though sweeping me out of my suburban understanding and planting me in these places.

          I was especially taken away by pictures of Qatari nomads, a coffee shop in Tbilisi, Bhutanis wearing red and yellow garb, Las Vegas at night, a Japanese family eating a meal... this was our race. And even at around 8 or 9 years old, it moved me so deeply.

          Where was I going with this... Oh yeah, the irony. So, in spite of all this, inspite of my wanderlust and my obsession with people and nature, I found, growing up, that most of my friends had been better traveled than myself. So, a little jealousy creeps in now and then, thinking that me, of all people, should have been there with them. But maybe they were just as curious about all of this as I was as a kid. All this curiosity going on unwittingly as I was growing up with them.

          One of my friends now works at a hostel herself. It's amazing that people who return from long travels don't have to leave the travels behind, they go to them and watch the travelers come and go. England sounds really gorgeous. I'm glad you've had a chance to go. It's on my bucket list! Jordan, too. Actually, a friend of mine went to Australia as well, and hung around the Northern Territory, being one to gravitate more towards the aborigines than the British-settled descendents on the coastline. Sounds like L and my friend "C" have something quite in common there!

          I'm not too share about sharing my experiences, so I would be happy to indulge in telling you about whatever I do. Sometime, when I'm not so bad at procrastinating, I'll get my flickr page up and going, and upload a lot of the pictures I've taken and share. =)

          "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

          by rovertheoctopus on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 08:02:24 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I adored that book, but read it when I was an (6+ / 0-)

    adult. I've always loved stories of people surviving in circumstances of extreme (or potentially extreme) peril.  The protagonist of that book was certainly an enterprising young fellow. Other examples in that genre are the short story, "Alone in Shark Waters" and Jean Auel's account of Ayla's solitary life after she was banished from the Cave Bear Clan, in The Valley of the Horses.

    The author, Jean George, actually grew up in the Maryland-DC area.  There was an article in The Washington Post about her some time ago.  She and the rest of her family were fascinated by the flora and fauna around them.

    If memory serves me correctly she also wrote about life among the Inuit or Aleuts.  I bought a couple of those books to read to my granddaughter when she's old enough.

    Thanks for bringing warm memories of this wonderful book, Jimrob! It's fascinating that it had such a profound effect on your early life.  This truly is an American classic, ranking right up there with The Bridge to Terabithia.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 05:35:24 AM PST

  •  Sam & I not always available (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, koosah

    Jimrob's diary does remind me of the 24/7 attitude many of us have these days. I have a cell and have to keep it around for work, but I like to fool myself into thinking that I am no slave to its ringing (I certainly am).

    I will admit that I am not so much a fan of her sequel On the Far Side of the Mountain, but can recommend Julie of the Wolves and host of other books she wrote whose titles I would mangle if I tried to remember them. Ah, yes--Auel's work!

    (Note: I too have somehow dramatically increased the number of sales calls I get by adding my number to the so-called "national no-call list."

  •  That book changed the course of mine, too! (6+ / 0-)

    I read it when I was around 10. Again and again. Then Henry David Thoreau, and London's "Call of the Wild". Maclean's "A River Runs Through It".
    The idea of living off the land, living in the wild and surrounded by nature so appealed to me that at 17 I ran away from home, fully intending to make my way (hitch hiking back in the 70's wasn't quite as risky as it is now) north into the mountains.
    Long story short, that didn't come to pass, because I met my first husband along the way, took a long detour from my path, and the progress toward living a simple life close to nature got waylaid for about 25 years. Fast forward....
    Remarried now to the love of my life, the man I wish I'd met long ago, someone who loves the outdoors and wilderness as much as I do.
    Now we spend all our free time in beautiful places where trout leap in icy waters, osprey out-fish me with my gossamer fly line while otters laugh and play along the river bank nearby, and bull elk bugle in the annual frenzy of the Autumn rut.
    One of the most inspirational books of my life. Thanks so much for reminding me of Sam and his peregrine Frightful.

    "When the powerless are shut out of the media, we will make the media irrelevant" ~♥~ Anonymous ~♥~

    by Lisa Lockwood on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 05:57:36 AM PST

    •  What a wonderful comment, Lisa! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lisa Lockwood
      Now we spend all our free time in beautiful places where trout leap in icy waters, osprey out-fish me with my gossamer fly line while otters laugh and play along the river bank nearby, and bull elk bugle in the annual frenzy of the Autumn rut.
      Such a lyrical description as this could be a poem.  So glad you and your heart's delight have been able to return to your first love, the wilderness.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 07:08:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I loved that book too (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, koosah, Diana in NoVa

    after reading it at just the same age. I had a very fully-developed sort of fantasy plan, for years, to grow up to live like Sam. I read up on wild foods in Stalking the Wild Asparagus (and tried out many of them) and on shelter construction and so on in How to Stay Alive in the Woods and in (also a great one for lonely gifted children) Ernest Thompson Seton's semi-autobiographical Two Little Savages. I liked how young Sam, though living in a hollow tree, thought to consult a nearby public library to learn about falconry! As I think about it all now (rather a lot of decades later) I can still picture his activities so vividly - making blueberry jam and putting it up in clay pots; camouflaging downed deer in order to steal them from big clumsy hunters, grinding up acorns to make flour, climbing down the cliff with a falcon chick in his shirt. They are a lot lie memories of my own. (I have wondered sometimes if I was the only one who was saddened by the ending, though. Family!  Building a house!)

  •  May I recommend a book? (5+ / 0-)

    For all the nature lovers reading this diary:

    Last Child In The Woods by Richard Louv.  Louv discusses how important it is for adults to encourage children to experience the "outside" in any form.  We live in a world where, increasingly, the empty lot is fenced off, the parks have all been dedicated to organized sports and children aren't even allowed (or able) to simply walk to school.  

    This isn't about exercise and physical's about allowing kids to be outside and interact with nature in non-structured ways that encourage a life-long commitment to and appreciation of nature...which will payoff in supporting and voting for environmental issues.

    Thanks for the reminder to seek out My Side of the son is 9 (almost 10) and it would be a great read for him.  I hope Santa is reading this...heh.    


    Metaphors be with you.

    by koosah on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 06:40:10 AM PST

  •  I read this when I was in Elementary School (0+ / 0-)

    It was a scholastic book club selection. It was a favorite of mine along with The Mad Scientists Club, Follow My Leader, The Forgotten Door and The Runaway Robot.

    Though I recall it fondly, it wasn't a life altering experience. Probably because I was no stranger to either rural life or roughing it in the woods.

    Though I thought it a good story and liked the self reliance of the protagonist, I wasn't inspired to follow his example. The idea of camping out 24/7 for a year held little attraction for me. Although the idea of ditching school was appealing:)  

    Nothing human is alien to me.

    by WB Reeves on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 07:07:07 PM PST

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