In his novel The Eagle Tree, Ned Hayes exquisitely captures the balance between the challenges that inevitably come with living with Asperger’s syndrome and the unique, perspective on life that comes from viewing the world with an autistic mind. Although the driving force of the story is the protagonist Peter “March”Wong’s undying desire to both climb and save the Eagle Tree from succumbing to the greed of a developer, it is elegantly juxtaposed with his mother’s battle to keep custody of her autistic son, despite his self-destructive tendencies.
What makes this book truly remarkable is how March,the protagonist, uses his extensive knowledge of trees and their behavior to better understand himself and the people around him. He makes the profound observation that “we are not truly or only individual people” but rather “we are like aspen groves” and are “actually connected to one another underground and must rely one another for sustenance and for the ability to continue to thrive in this world” (ch. 15).However, March also recognizes the fact that his flapping arms, perseverating, and social challenges separate him from the “ecosystem” of humans. Moreover, he astutely observes the fact that he is not alone in his societal ostracism. Specifically, he says, “people seem to have removed themselves from the natural ecosystem anyway. They take from it, but there is no direct connection. The feedback is all negative” (ch. 14).
It is this refreshing perspective that I feels sets this book apart because it speaks volumes about the current climate of today’s world. It seems that we, as a society are so quick to other and exclude specific groups of people because they are different. Yet, we seem to forget that we’re all in this thing called life together. Just as “everything in the forest contributes to the whole, (ch. 12)” as March observes, the actions of each human being contribute to the well-being of humanity. It is a perspective like March’s that reminds us that we should work to promote the happiness of others, instead of playing a primary role in their discomfort, as seems to be the case with many of today’s lawmakers.
Ultimately, the Eagle Tree is a truly heartwarming tale filled with very relatable characters who successfully portray what living with an autism spectrum disorder looks like on the individual, family, and community level. The characters are three dimensional and very relatable and you can’t help but find yourself rooting for March, even when his plans to save the Eagle Tree become a bit dangerous. His observations about people and how they interact with the world around them are both keen and heartfelt, and most definitely something that will change the thinking of every reader.
5 out of 5 stars
“Time can be difficult for me. It is a continuous thing and if has no boundaries. Sometimes if moves very fast and sometimes very slow…It is not possible to plan or move precisely in time, and that makes me scared.” (Chapter 5)
“I am a tree that looks dead to the world, but when you climb to the very top, you find bright green limbs, sucking sap one hundred feet from the ground. And you discover that the tree is very much alive, and is keeping its secret of life from the world.” (Chapter 14)
“But the parts of these trees that really mattered to me right now was the roots. Those are the parts of the tree that search through the soil for nutrients and water, and slowly discover what is deep underground. I was what was underground here. The majority of who I really am is buried underneath the surface, and no ones sees it. I am always connected to the deep river of knowledge, my taproot sliding right into the river’s main spring. And these trees were trying to determine who I was from the little bit of me that they could see sticking up above the soil. It hardly seemed fair that they could judge all that I am from the little bit that they could see interacting with other people, because that’s the smallest part of who I am.” (Chapter 23)