By Michael Christie
It’s 1974 and Willow Greenwood is living in her Westfalia, travelling to various logging camps with her son, Liam, in tow. Willow’s intent is to sabotage logging operations and generally interfere with the industry that is destroying B.C.’s vast and beautiful forests. In fact, she has devoted her life to this endeavour.
Unexpectedly, Willow is the daughter of Harris Greenwood, a rich lumber magnate who lives in a mansion in Shaughnessy. As we delve into Willow’s history, Michael Christie takes us on an elaborate journey across Canada and right through the 20th century.
Willow’s roots (pun intended) go back to a maple farm in New Brunswick where, in 1934, she is found as a newborn who’s been left to die in a tree. Everett Greenwood, a drifter (and Harris’s brother), temporarily adopts her and sets out to find her a good home. He and Willow jump on freight trains and find food wherever they can. But as they journey through the forests of Quebec (where Willow is almost adopted by a grieving young couple) and the dust bowl of Saskatchewan (where Everett finds temporary work) towards B.C., Everett becomes progressively more attached to Willow and does not want to give her up.
Everett’s story is utterly compelling. Throughout his journey, we meet a series of other characters, each with stories of their own. Michael Christie takes readers back to 1908, when Everett and Harris were boys, then fast forwards all the way to 2038 when Jake Greenwood, Willow’s granddaughter, is a forest guide on Greenwood Island, one of the last stands of old growth forest left in the world.
I absolutely loved this epic family tale! Although not always entirely believable (how do you jump onto a moving train with a baby strapped to you anyway?) I could not put this book down. Michael Christie has a way of weaving an elaborate and intricate tale that combines multiple layers, threads, characters and time periods.
He also delves into the fascinating science of trees and likens the inner workings of the forest to that of a family. Jake Greenwood knows “[t]hat even the impenetrable mysteries of time and family and death can be solved, if only they are viewed through the green-tinted lens of this one gloriously complex organism.”