The Trees Beneath Us
Darren R. Leo
Introduction by Craig Childs
Stark House Press, July 2015
This is a most unusual book. It is as much memoir as it is fiction, for one thing.
The introduction includes this quote from Thoreau: “If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man: then you are ready for a walk.” The author later says “Would Thoreau be admired if he never left Walden Pond?”
The protagonist, Finn, sees himself thusly: “Stubbornness had long been described as one of my greatest attributes or flaws.” As did the author, Finn decides to hike the Appalachian Trail. Early in his trek, he says: “I was reacquainting with the wilderness like running into an old girlfriend I had not seen in years… Thousands of people hiked big chunks of the trail every year. A few hundred would walk its entirety. Some large number of people with packs crossed that highway and disappeared through the cut. Each had a purpose. Some had dreams. All had reasons.” Finn’s reason appears to be contemplation of his life till then, and the natural life around him brings him “occasional moments of clarity and insights.” He is working through grief, love and loss, having lost his job, his health, and his son.
A lapsed Catholic, 44 years old, with very mixed feelings about the deity and life itself, Finn has been diagnosed as suffering from depression, bipolar, at times suicidal; he has an ex-wife, what he describes as three or four children, and is living with a woman who loves him and who he loves, Penelope, or Penny, who he refers to as his BSW (beautiful sunny woman). His descriptions of the natural world are gorgeous, e.g., he sees small yellow butterflies hovering “like lemon colored clouds” as well as an “achingly beautiful butterfly that started bright sky blue and faded to deep inky darkness . . . like twilight captured on a wing.”
On his journey, which goes on for almost 1,500 miles, over a period of months, during most of which he does not contact any of his family members, he reflects on his past. A running motif seems to be “bad news doesn’t travel through trees.”
This is a book which will stay with the reader long after the last page has been read, and it is recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2016.