Saturday Excerpt: Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen
Harry’s Tress is a wonderful new book all about learning to let go and overcoming grief. Though it doesn’t hit shelves until June 12, we’re excited to give you an early look and this inspiring read.
About Harry’s Trees:
When you climb a tree, the first thing you do is to hold on tight…
Thirty-four-year-old Harry Crane works as an analyst for the US Forest Service. When his wife dies suddenly, he is unable to cope. Leaving his job and his old life behind, Harry makes his way to the remote woods of northeastern Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, determined to lose himself. But fate intervenes in the form of a fiercely determined young girl named Oriana. She and her mother, Amanda, are struggling to pick up the pieces from their own tragedy—Amanda stoically holding it together while Oriana roams the forest searching for answers. And in Oriana’s magical, willful mind, she believes that Harry is the key to righting her world.
Now it’s time for Harry to let go…
After taking up residence in the woods behind Amanda’s house, Harry reluctantly agrees to help Oriana in a ludicrous scheme to escape his tragic past. In so doing, the unlikeliest of elements—a wolf, a stash of gold coins, a fairy tale called The Grum’s Ledger and a wise old librarian named Olive—come together to create a golden adventure that will fulfill Oriana’s wildest dreams and open Harry’s heart to a whole new life.
Harry’s Trees is an uplifting story about the redeeming power of friendship and love and the magic to be found in life’s most surprising adventures.
The memorial service for Beth, Harry Crane’s wife of fourteen years, was held in the Leiper Friends Meeting House in Waverly, just outside Philadelphia. The large, unadorned room was packed with relatives, friends, neighbors and coworkers.
A woman’s whisper rose from their midst. “Oh, look at him. Poor Harry.” Grief-haunted and pale in his rumpled blue suit, Harry sat in the front row propped between his imposing older brother, Wolf, and Beth’s father, Stan.
A deep quiet fell over the gathering. In a Quaker memorial service, the mourners sit in ungoverned silence until someone is moved to say a few words, recite poetry or even sing. A long minute passed. The cold March wind clicked a tree branch against the window at the end of Harry’s row. A baby fussed. An old man coughed. Kleenex white as dove wings fluttered into view about the room.
Sandy Maynard was the first to rise. Sandy played tennis with Beth every other Tuesday evening at the Healthplex. “Beth,” she said. She gripped the back of the pew in front of her. “Beth, I want to tell you something. You were a wonderful friend.” Tears streamed down Sandy’s cheeks. “You were a wonderful friend, and I will miss you every day of my life.” Sandy’s husband slid another Kleenex into her hand and helped her sit back down.
Harry stared straight ahead.
Carl Bachman, owner of Bachman’s Deli Cafe, lumbered to his feet. “So,” he said. He paused to wipe his forehead with a handkerchief and clear his throat. Carl was not a man accustomed to oratory. “So, I just want to say Beth was a great customer. And Harry, I know you were a great husband. And this—this is a great tragedy. Obviously. So. So, God who also is pretty great, well, He works in mysterious ways. Thank you.” Carl looked around in a panic as if suddenly thinking, Are you allowed to say God in a Quaker service, what are the darn rules? He ducked back down into his seat.
The mourners turned their gaze back to Harry. Outside, a heavy truck pulled down a side street. The deep engine throb filled the meeting house. Harry shifted and blinked. The room tensed, but he went still again.
A woman to Harry’s left popped up like a meerkat and raised a silver flute into view. “I’d like to play a song for you, Beth. I tried to compose something original but I was too sad to think, so I’m going to play a Beatles song because the Beatles cover every single emotion there could possibly be. I’m going to play ‘Hello, Goodbye.’” She lifted the flute to her lips and gave it a nervous off-key toot. “Um, hold on, I have to adjust. Something.” She fiddled with the tuning slide, gave things a twist, pressed the flute to her lips again. She closed her eyes and played the first note, this time perfectly. The simple pop melody hit the mourners with the emotional wallop of a Bach cello suite.
Loud sobs detonated around the room.
But not a sound from the front pew, where Harry sat. Someone in the back of the room stood and began to speak in a steady, elderly voice. “Well, my name is Bill Belson and I live over on Guernsey Road, and I want to speak a moment about Beth and my Jack Russell terrier, Bud. Every morning, I tie Bud to the cherry tree in my front yard so he can watch what’s going on. And Beth, on her way to the train, would always stop to give him a head scratch or a belly rub. When she’d step into the yard, she’d say, ‘Hello, Bud.’ And when she’d leave, she’d say, ‘Goodbye, Bud.’”
Bill Belson paused. “I’d hear Beth’s voice from an open window or maybe I’d be out back raking leaves, and it brought me pleasure, this little thing between the two of them. This little ‘Hello, Goodbye.’” Bill’s deep sigh filled the room. “I’m sure going to miss that moment. Because that’s why we’re here on this planet. You know? To speak to dogs. To be alive in the world. That’s what Beth was. Alive in the world.”
For the first time since Stan and Wolf had led him into the room, Harry moved. He slowly turned to look at this man, Bill Belson. But Bill had taken his seat.
Harry’s eyes cut to a teenager rising to his feet. Jason Luder. Nice kid, lived next door, mowed their lawn when they went on vacation. “Yeah, well,” Jason began, “kinda followin’ up on what Mr. Belson said, and the lady with the flute. We just read Slaughterhouse-Five in class and there’s, like, this phrase that Billy Pilgrim uses, ‘Farewell, hello, farewell, hello,’ because he’s, like, unstuck in time. So maybe in a way Mrs. Crane’s still kind of here, okay? In a way, she’s just unstuck in time.” Jason sat down.
And Harry stood up. The assembly held its collective breath. Harry was going to speak. He said two words, but in a voice so quiet no one could make them out. He looked at the floor, then at the ceiling, and said them again. “Wait here.”
Two hundred people exchanged furtive, puzzled looks.
Harry stepped past Wolf. Wolf gripped Harry’s coat sleeve. Harry shook free, stood for a teetering moment, then took off down the center of the aisle. He banged open the meeting house doors, ran down the stone steps and out onto the lawn, accelerating toward some unreachable escape. Wolf, large as a locomotive and huffing steam in the cold air, caught him from behind.
They crashed to the frozen ground.
Crushed beneath his brother, Harry felt the relief of obliteration. But he heard himself groan—there would be no escape— and his left eye opened. He blinked and stared at his hand, pinned inches in front of his face. The fingers slowly uncurled and revealed, crumpled and sweaty after five days of clutching it in his fist, a lottery ticket.
“Wait here,” he whispered, and saw Beth standing before him, Beth five days ago, standing on Market Street.