My Side Of The Mountain Summary

Jean Craighead George

My Side Of The Mountain

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My Side Of The Mountain Summary

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The majority of Jean Craighead George’s novel My Side of the Mountain is told in flashback, as thirteen-year-old Sam Gribley recounts how he came to live in a hollowed out tree on his great-grandfather’s abandoned farm in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. Sam has left the city, where he was dissatisfied living in his parents’ cramped apartment with his eight siblings.

Sam left the city with only a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, and the forty dollars he had saved from selling magazine subscriptions. He also purchased a flint and steel set.In a flashback, we learn about Sam’s journey to and early days on the farm. He hitchhikes his way to the Catskills, and though on his first day he is able to catch five fish, he cannot start a fire to cook them. The next morning, Sam looks for his great-grandfather’s farm, but is unable to find it. He climbs a hill and finds a small cottage. Inside, he meets Bill, the old man who lives there. Bill teaches Sam how to start a fire and how to cook his fish.

Sam heads to town and speaks with the local librarian, explaining who he is and what he is doing. He finds the farm, though all that remains of the farmhouse is its stone foundation.

Sam learns to become self-sufficient on the abandoned farm. He turns a hollow tree into a home, and begins living off small game and the edible plants he gathers. He enlarges the hollow of the tree by using fire, the way he remembers Native Americans built their canoes. While chopping an ash tree to make a bed, an old woman named Mrs. Thomas Fielder arrives and forces Sam to help her pick strawberries.

Sam observes a peregrine falcon on the hunt, and decides the bird would make a good hunting pet. He heads to the library and reads about falconry. He camps in the woods for several days, searching for the falcon nest, until he finds it and steals a falcon chick while the mother attacks him. Sam names the baby bird Frightful.

A little while later, Sam is forced into the woods for two days by the arrival of a forest ranger, who, upon seeing smoke from Sam’s campfire, is investigating the possibility of a forest fire.

Sam tells the reader stories of what he did in the fall. He builds a box trap in the hope of catching animals for food, but instead catches a weasel. Sam adopts the weasel as a pet, and names it Baron. He learns how to smoke meat and tan hides, hoping to kill a deer for the winter. A nearby poacher kills a deer, and Sam hides the carcass, deciding to use it for himself for food and a new set of clothes.

Sam teaches Frightful how to hunt, and becomes skilled at gathering and preserving food. A second poached deer carcass provides him another set of clothes. Sam watches a raccoon scooping mussels out of the creek, and learns to hunt for shellfish himself. He names the raccoon Jesse Coon James, after the bandit outlaw Jesse James.

Sam returns home one day to find a man at his tree. The man is an English professor lost in the woods. Sam and the man—whom Sam nicknames Bando—spend ten days together. Together they build a raft for catching fish, and Bando gives Sam sugar for jam making. Bando leaves, promising to come back at Christmas.

Sam steals two more dead deer from hunters so he can make winter clothes, builds a fireplace, and hurriedly begins foraging for food he can store over the winter. At Halloween, Sam feels lonely, so he stages a party for his animal friends, who then begin stealing his food. Two more stolen deer provide another source of food, and Sam is forced to spend time hiding from hunters and other passers-by.

Again, feeling lonely, Sam heads to town for a haircut and meets another teenage boy, Tom Sidler. Bands returns on Christmas Eve, and shows Sam a collection of newspaper articles about the so-called “Wild Boy” living in the forest. Sam’s father makes a surprise visit on Christmas Day; he is overjoyed to find Sam happy and healthy. The three of them have venison for Christmas dinner.

Returning to the present, Sam describes how he and the forest animals make their way through the winter. As winter turns to spring, a teenager from the town, Matt Spell, arrives at Sam’s home, wanting to write a story about Sam’s adventure. Sam is hesitant at first and attempts to throw Matt on a different trail.Eventually Sam acquiesces on the condition that Matt will not reveal Sam’s location. The two agree that Matt will spend spring break at Sam’s camp. Sam also meets Aaron, a Jewish songwriter in the forest looking for inspiration; Sam begins to wonder about his loneliness.

During Matt’s visit, he reveals that he has told Sam’s location to a photographer. During Matt’s visit, Bando returns. They work on making a second tree into a guesthouse. Tom Sidler finds Sam’s camp, making Sam realize just how lonely he is.

Later, Bando visits again, and Sam asks him to return with some jeans and a shirt to wear to the town so he can visit Tom without attracting suspicion. Then one day in June, Sam’s entire family arrives on the farm for a visit. Though he is happy at first, his emotions turn to sadness when he realizes that his wild life is over. The family decides to build a proper house on the farm, and while Sam is glad for the companionship, he knows he will miss the feeling he got from living off the land on his own.

The major themes of the novel deal with freedom, self-sufficiency, and the need for humans to be around other people. Sam searches for a balance between his desire to live alone, off the land, and his need for companionship. The book ends with Sam still unsure as to how he will balance those motivations going forward.

My Side of the Mountain won several awards when it was published, and remains well regarded among children’s literature critics for its characters’ maturity, its honest portrayal of animal life, and the richness of its depiction of Sam’s survival skills.

The novel was adapted into a film, and several sequels followed two decades after the first novel’s original release.