Book Review, A Separate Place

By MILT GROSS | Jun 24, 2012
Photo by: Milt Gross A Separate Place and As Far as the Eye Can See, both by David Brill, were written some twenty years apart. The first, his thruhike on the Appalachian Trail, and the second his building a cabin in the Tennessee forest in which to live in basic solitude and remain in “the wilderness.”

By David Brill

A Separate Place combines hiking, the love of the outdoors, love, family tragedy, and a cabin in the Tennessee woods.

To me, the saddest part of the tale is when the author and a friend are relaxing on the porch of the newly-built cabin, overlooking a brook and the property of which cabin borders a national park.

“Ahhh, solitude, I thought. A quiet summer evening in the woods. Life is good, damned good. The happy reflection was still lingering in my synapses when a shrill voice, amplified through a PA system, echoed up from the gorge. It was followed by the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’

“What in the hell is that?” I said.

“Sounds like our national anthem to me.” (A friend with him commented.)

“No shit, Sherlock, but why are we hearing it at seven P.M., from the direction of the creek -- a wild and scenic creek?”

The noise turned out to be from a go-cart race track a few miles away.

Brill, the communications director of a research director at the University of Tennessee and a freelance writer, describes the contradiction of the joy of moving to a cabin in the woods with the agony of a divorce and its effect on the entire family. This book, published by the Penguin Group of Penguin Putnam Inc. of New York City in 2001, describes the feelings many people experience but don’t share with others.

“Honest, insightful, and wise, A Separate Place will resonate with all those who yearn for a sanctuary of their own,” states the cover description.

This writing follows by some 20 years, Brill’s account of his thruhiking the Appalachian Trail, As Far as the Eye Can See.

Brill shares the joys of falling in love, his love of the outdoors, recollections of past outdoor adventure, the drifting apart of him and his wife, Susan, partly due to both their separate lives being too busy to allow them to concentrate on each other, their divorce, and Brill’s attempt to find a new life in the quiet of the woods.

The book describes the typical problems one building a new home encounters, such as in Brill’s case a layer of solid rock a few feet beneath the surface of the ground making the drilling of a well time consuming and expensive.

It continues with the happy experiences one expects from living in the woods near a national forest which has the effect of providing a virtually limitless forest experience and with the growing tragedy of their divorce with its effect on everyone the author’s life touches.

The reader soon realizes that this is how it is in real life. Too many hiking and other outdoor books deal only with the romance of the “wilderness” experience. Brill’s second book involves the total experience of the person involved in that experience.

You can almost smell the sawdust as Brill first uses a chainsaw to cut down trees that are intruding on what becomes his driveway, you can feel the pleasant sensation of swimming in the nearby stream’s cold water, the panic of seeing a loved dog swept away by rushing stream waters and nearly drowned, and the growing peace in seeing his torn-apart life begin to form a new experience.

“There are times when you view your life as a strange patchwork of experiences that at first seem disconnected, without apparent unity,” he writes as he concludes the book. “Then there are those flashes of insight, when you realize that everything that’s come before -- everything -- leads you forward to the next point along a path that is uniquely yours, a path whose every twist and turn is an integral part of the person you will spend a lifetime becoming.”

As Brill and his ex-wife work on a broken lawnmower in her garage, he writes that both were “learning to love -- in a whole new way.”

His concluding sentence is for all of us.

“At that moment, I realized that we had all embarked on a new journey. My heart was still. And I knew, I just knew, we were all going to be all right.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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