This novel is a chronicle of Sam's year of living in the wilderness. During his time on the mountain, Sam is challenged to find ways to take care of his basic needs for food and shelter. Much of his story is also concerned with Sam's need for companionship - a need that proves to be, ultimately, the central conflict of the novel.
Sam quickly learns how to take care of his basic needs in the woods, living off the land proficiently and happily. With his survival needs met, Sam's social needs move to the forefront of his narrative.
First, he makes friends with the animals of the forest.
Sam's closest companions in the woods are Frightful, a trained peregrine falcon; Jesse Coon James, a raccoon; and Baron Weasel.
These creatures offer some friendship for Sam, but soon the company of these animals is not enough. When Bando shows up on the mountain, Sam is drawn to him, despite the fact that Sam believes Bando is a criminal on the run.
Bando is the first human friend Sam makes on the mountain, but not the last. When spring finally comes Sam is surprised to find that he is open to the friendship of other boys his age. He seeks out people instead of running away to maintain his privacy on the mountain, even scheduling visits with Bando and and Matt.
Through Sam's changing attitudes toward the benefits of isolation, the novel's central conflict and theme find expression.
The book develops the theme of independence versus the need for relationships...
Sam begins the novel wanting to be alone and ends the novel accepting the comfort of family and companionship.