Excerpt from Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Harry's Trees

by Jon Cohen

Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen X
Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 432 pages

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Norah Piehl

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Suspended in an awful and unnatural calm, Harry stepped out of his cubicle into the cramped aisle. He turned in a slow 360. He heard something, coming from deep within the endless forest of cubicles. Not the hum of computers and printers but the whisper of leaves. Trees, he thought.

Trees.

To the forest and the trees.

In a daze, he drifted through the office and away, beckoned by the scent of pine trees and oaks and the distant rustle of leaves in the wind. Outside in the parking lot, Harry walked across the asphalt grave where the eastern hemlock had once stood, got into his car and drove away from the treeless, soul-sucking suburban headquarters of the Northern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service.

Jackpot, Harry!

He didn't choose the roads, the roads chose him, guided him to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Pointed him north. The outer suburbs of Philadelphia vanished as if plucked away by a great unseen hand and bare trees rose and grew dense along either side of the highway. American larch. His eyes flicked and narrowed as he gauged the shape and possibility of each one. White oak. Sycamore. Honey locust.

He reached the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, the center of the secondary-growth hardwood forests of the Endless Mountains. He had managed this stretch of the Appalachians by computer for over a decade. Of course he would end up here. Treeless words that had crowded his brain for too long—forest resource utilization, sustainable harvest, inventory and analysis, development and evaluation—receded.

"Aspen. Birch. Black locust," said Harry, taking in the deepening forest. "Fire cherry. Pignut hickory. Shagbark hickory." Fire, pignut, shagbark, the old, familiar names summoning the woodland sanctuary of his childhood, when he climbed high up in the branches of the giant beech in his front yard and imagined the trees going on forever in all directions, and he safely in the center. His shaded escape, the forest he had spent a lifetime trying to reach.

North of Scranton, the low-fuel warning flashed at him and he took the next exit, a two-lane state road. He stopped at a ramshackle country hardware store and bought fifteen feet of blue nylon rope, paid and walked away. The clerk ran after him with his change. When the clerk went back into the store, Harry let the meaningless coins slide from his hand onto the blacktop.

He continued along the rural road, driving up and down the rolling hills, his car like an unmoored boat bobbing on the waves. At the top of a high hill he came to a gravel crossroad marked by a faded street sign perched atop a rusty pole poking out of the undergrowth. A single ray of afternoon sun touched the sign, setting it aglow. Harry hit the brakes. Maple Road. They were everywhere, a crowded forest of saplings and towering mature trees, rooted fast to the rolling topography, the leafless early spring limbs majestic against the April sky. Sugar maples. Acer saccharum.

"Acer saccharum," Harry said, the botanical Latin uttered aloud sounding like an incantation. A requiem. Saccharum, saccharum, Acer saccharum.

He pulled onto the gravel road. There was a two-story log frame house set deep in the trees, but after that no other houses. It was all trees now, crowded so thickly along the road they formed a tunnel, the lower branches scratching like fingernails across the roof of his car. On the left side of the road—he almost drove right by it—a sudden opening in the foliage. The over-grown entrance to an abandoned quarry? An old lumber road? Compelled, Harry cut the steering wheel hard and squeezed onto the worn wheel ruts, bouncing along until the wild rhodo-dendron and thick mountain laurel stopped him a half mile in.

He got out of the car, slung the coil of rope over his shoulder and walked into the forest. Cold dry leaves crunched beneath his feet. He didn't feel the cold, didn't feel anything but the presence of the sugar maples. As he trudged forward, brushing his fingers against the wide, furrowed trunks, he raised his eyes to the tangle of overhead branches. Transfixed by the tree canopy and the infinite beckoning blue of the afternoon sky, he smacked into a waist-high stone wall, folding over it with a surprised grunt.

Excerpted from Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen. Copyright © 2018 by Jon Cohen. Excerpted by permission of Mira. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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