The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes

I recently bought The Eagle Tree from Amazon as a paperback for $8.26. At 253 pages it was an easy read. I enjoyed the book so much that rather than abruptly finishing it in one sitting I forced myself to finish the same in 2 days. The Eagle Tree portrays the collage of traits by which the author typifies an autistic individual. In this case Peter March Wong (better known as March) is a high-functioning and verbal autistic individual with a photographic memory. March excels at math and science but does badly in art and history. His special interest is trees, especially climbing them. This leads to many misadventures including falls, bruises and broken bones.

I thought of  The Eagle Tree as a hybrid between Rainman, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and the philosophy of  Zen the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values.  The book is well researched and, like Rainman, seems to imbue the subject of the narrative with popular traits of different autistic individuals. The ability to think in pictures a la Temple Grandin is emphasized and March has a vault with pictures of exemplars for objects in his surroundings.   The book also emphasizes the autistic need for constancy and the seriousness of sensory disabilities.

Although not overtly emphasized the book has an interesting and humane backdrop story in the angst produced in March’s family by his multiple runaways and accidents. It is never directly explained but the reader suspects that these incidents may help explain, in some way, the fact that his father is no longer living with his mother or why he moved to another state. It is also heartbreaking that March’s behaviors, duly noted as dangerous, provide an avenue for the government to intervene and to question the parenting skills of his mother.

Probably a negative to the story is the fact that the ending was expected from the different clues given early on by the author. On the other hand, a positive to the story is how the understanding and social support of relatives and friends can make a huge difference in the life of an autistic individual.

This is an enjoyable book which I highly recommended for anybody as a leisurely reading. Those interested in factual biographical accounts of high achieving autistic individuals should read “Look Me in the Eyes” by John Elder Robison or “Thinking in Pictures” by Temple Grandin.   Personally I enjoyed the love Ned Hayes, the author, emanates for nature and his native city of Olympia, Washington. It is this part of Mr. Hayes’ personality that is embedded in Peter March Wong and ultimately steers us to see nature in a different, maybe autistic, way.


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