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by Barbara J. Olexer
copyright © 2009
THE TREE THAT WALKED Riley was getting very cranky. He was tired of standing in front of the hotel. People walked by him all day and sometimes most of the night. They dropped cigarettes, wads of chewing gum, candy wrappers, and all sorts of trash in his tub. See, Riley was a Douglas fir tree, and although he was very young, he knew that his home was really the forest and that it was pretty bizarre for him to be standing under an awning in the city. The air was full of exhaust fumes from cars and buses and the only water he ever got was full of chlorine from a hose because the awning kept the rain away. His needles were choked with dust and city grit because the rain couldn’t wash the grime away. There was another Douglas fir tree across the sidewalk from him and sometimes they talked. Oddly enough, for they could hear the humans and understand their talk, the humans never seemed to hear him and Connell. Riley could see one tiny corner of the city park if he stretched out toward the street. The park had lots of trees. Most of them were deciduous, which Riley considered an inferior kind of tree, but he knew he would rather live among them than on the sidewalk. Sometimes he and Connell talked about escaping from their tubs and going to live in the park. Riley could tell that Connell wasn’t serious about it, that he didn’t mind standing in front of the hotel nearly as much as Riley did. So when Riley decided to make a break for it, he didn’t even consider inviting Connell to go with him. The planning took a long time. The first problem, of course, was how to get out of the tub. He wiggled his roots. They didn’t move much. He pushed down as hard as he could against the bottom of the tub. Hmmmmm. It would take a lot of wiggling and
pushing to loosen his roots enough to climb out of his container. So be it, he thought; he would keep trying until he freed himself. The next thing was how to get to the park. Riley was pretty sure he could walk once he was free but he had the feeling that he couldn’t walk at all fast. And if he didn’t make his getaway quickly he was afraid someone would scoop him up and replant him in the tub or, worse, toss him in the trash. Riley thought about that for several days. He didn’t know what happened to the trash after it was dumped into the big noisy trucks but it sounded painful, if the screeching and groaning was any indication. He shuddered all along his branches and some of his needles fell off. Riley finally decided that he would hitch a ride on one of the yellow taxis that stood in front of the hotel. He could hook some of his roots over the bumper and when the taxi got to the park he could jump off. He thought about that, too. It sounded like it might be painful. Jumping off. The whole idea of jumping was so very un-treelike that it made him feel faint and shuddery. Trees do not jump. They bend. They shiver. They sigh in the wind. They grow. Actually, Riley thought, that’s our best thing, growing. Trees are very good at growing. Not jumping. Still, if he wanted to grow really big, he would have to get out of the tub and into the park and that meant jumping. It took weeks of wiggling and pushing for Riley to get his roots loosened enough to climb out of the tub. He had started when it was summer, now it was autumn. There weren’t quite so many people around and Humphrey, the night doorman, spent most of his time inside because it was cold outside. Riley decided the time had come to make his move. He chose a night when it was cloudy so it would be dark early and he could get a good start. He had an idea it was going to take most of the night. The hotel guests were still coming back from their dinners and theatres when Riley began to climb out of the tub. Humphrey had watered him a couple of days earlier and that made it easier to wiggle his roots free. He was balanced on the edge of the tub when Connell noticed. 3
Riley crossed the rest of the sidewalk and stood looking at the back of the taxi. “I’m busting out of here. He had considered jumping down to the sidewalk to see how hard jumping was but decided that he had better save jumping for necessity and not risk it unnecessarily. Connell. I won’t.” Connell warned. I have a plan.“Riley!” Connell shouted.” “You’re going to miss the Christmas lights. Riley eased down off the tub. which suited him just fine. He was as securely positioned as possible when a man and woman came out of the hotel and Humphrey opened the taxi door 4 . Riley was halfway across the sidewalk when another taxi pulled up and three people got out and went into the hotel. reading a magazine. he had always enjoyed wearing the Christmas lights. very becoming. feeling carefully with his roots for the sidewalk.” Connell prophesied. Long enough anyway for him to get on the back bumper. but as quickly as he could.” With that. judging by how Connell looked in his. “What are you doing? Your roots are bare.” said Riley. Very slowly. Once on the sidewalk. “I heard Humphrey say yesterday that he’s going to put our colored lights on us in a day or two. They were laughing and didn’t seem to notice Riley. The second taxi driver climbed into the front seat with the first one and they struck up an animated conversation. Goodbye. he hurried over to the taxi that was parked at the curb. because to tell the truth. Riley hoped they would talk for a long time.” “I’m going. get back in your tub and cover them up.” said Riley.” “You can have my lights. “No. though. Sometimes there were several taxis in front of the hotel but tonight there was only one. The driver was sitting behind the steering wheel. He put his roots up and felt for a way to hold on. He said it with a little pang. “Your roots will dry out and you’ll die. They were cheerful and. Quick. There wasn’t much to hang on to but he gripped the bumper as best he could and hoped for the best.
then?” asked the little girl. too. Once he was safe. although not as much as the cars had.” said the little girl to the man whose hand she held.” Daddy answered.” “Why don’t we put it in the park. Riley knew he mustn’t stay there long or his roots would dry out and he would die. That hurt. “Well. Two taxis and a limousine ran over some of his roots and one of his lower branches and he was startled at how much it hurt. he lay on the sidewalk and rested. Riley didn’t know that the traffic light was red and would remain red for almost a minute. people were walking on the sidewalk and stepping on the tips of his branches. 5 . why don’t we?” answered Daddy. Riley was amazed at the feeling of speed. Moving with an agonizing lack of speed.for them. What if he couldn’t see it in time? What if one of the other cars or taxis ran over him before he could get off the pavement and onto the sidewalk? He almost wished he had remained calmly in his tub instead of making this mad dash for freedom. There he was whizzing along on the back of a taxicab in the night with the city lights a brightly colored blur. He began to worry whether he would recognize the park in time to jump. but he saw the trees of the park beside him and knew he would have to jump. Riley pulled himself up on the sidewalk. But he couldn’t stop. With that he picked Riley up and tossed him over the low stone wall into the park. The visiting cab driver got out and the resident driver started the taxi and pulled out into the traffic. “Daddy. The taxi stopped just then. Besides. None of the people paid the least attention to him until a man with two children stopped to look at him. “I have no idea why it’s here on the sidewalk. he had to get off the street. Fortunately. the taxi was in the traffic lane next to the sidewalk and when Riley jumped he landed half on the sidewalk and half in the street. “Sure it should. “why is this tree on the sidewalk?” “Shouldn’t it be in the park like the other trees?” asked the little boy.
Riley instantly withdrew the root and a groundhog popped up out of the hole.Riley landed on his topmost branches. thinking dizzily that a storm must have blown up suddenly. my burrow is the only place you can grow. I can get my roots to grow in the soil there. “What do you think you are doing?” Chuck demanded.” agreed Riley.” “Well. Riley longed to be upright again but could not raise himself until he got at least some of his roots below the surface. I’ll die.” Chuck said. Only stay out of my burrow.” “I can’t get my roots into the ground here. He further reflected that it was an unpleasant feeling and hoped he would not have to do any more flying.” interjected Riley. He knew then what it felt like to fly and reflected proudly that he was probably the only tree in the city who had that knowledge. He lay there for a few minutes.” huffed Chuck.” “Yes. settling with his roots in the air. Someone squeaked indignantly and bit him severely. In spite of the fact that my burrow is small and the rest of the world is all around you. He reached out as far as he could in every direction and finally encountered a hole. “This is my home and I’ll thank you to keep your roots out of it.” Riley explained. “You’re a tree and you need to grow in my burrow. that’s right. But the soil is soft in your burrow. “The surface is too hard.” Chuck said. “Help yourself. He remembered the people and the man’s hands on his trunk. “Never mind your fur. there’s plenty of ground all around you. He pushed his roots out away from the wall and encountered grass but could not get his roots past the hard earth and the grass roots to the soft soil below. He probed the ground and found it too hard to penetrate. pleased that Chuck understood so quickly.” Riley apologized. He pushed a length of root into it and felt around. “I’m new in the neighborhood and if I don’t get my roots into the ground soon.” “I’m sorry. He knew his roots were drying out and he must get them into the ground as quickly as possible. 6 .” “Let me get this straight. “You’re a tree…” “A Douglas fir tree.
you see. Thank you very much. That makes more sense. I jumped off. “But. You’re a tree but you hitched a ride on a cab and jumped off at your chosen destination. The taxi was parked near my tub and I held onto the back of it with my roots.” Chuck said. I see. “You flew over the wall. Listen. pushing it into the soft earth. “You are most generous. I’m moving out. You know what? I’ve got a headache listening to you. I was growing in a tub under an awning.” “Well. “Oh. Or maybe a cuckoo bird. some of his other roots were able to enter the burrow and push into the soil. You flew over the wall. I’ll find a new place a good long ways away.” “Thank you. until a few hours ago. Take my burrow. “Okay. I escaped and rode a taxicab to the sidewalk on the other side of this wall. When we got here. Oh. I flew over the wall and now I’ve got to get my roots into the ground or I’ll die. It felt like flying. Riley worked all the rest of the night and when the sun came up the next morning.” “I suppose it does sound absurd. do I look like a chump? Do you look like a jaybird? More like a gooney bird.” Chuck looked at Riley consideringly. Take my cozy little nest.” Riley called as Chuck toddled away. It had been painful when he pushed the bruised roots in 7 .” Riley immediately put one of his roots into Chuck’s burrow and wiggled it around. I mean a man threw me over the wall. As he pushed. more than half of his roots were in the ground. I’ve got the flying thing but how about taking a taxi? You want me to believe that you stood on the sidewalk and hailed a cab and the cabbie stopped and brought you here? What did you pay him with. wood chips?” “Of course I didn’t do any of those things.” “You flew over the wall.” mused Riley.“It sounds perfectly irrational to me.” “You jumped off. If you’re going to hang around this neighborhood.” Riley explained. when I say I flew. There are trees everywhere you look and not one of them needs to grow in my burrow.
He had only been able to see a small patch of sky from under the awning but now he could see a broad swath. wedging them tightly into the ground. he came closer to being up straight. The whole sky twinkled with them. He knew it was important not to draw attention to himself. he couldn’t get upright. That evening he watched in awe as the stars began to show in the sky. the more stars he could see. One day there was a rain storm and he drank gratefully through both his roots and his needles. moist dirt around them and know that he could now get nourishment through the tiny filaments of his rootlets. Each time he bounced. The darker the sky got. He had an idea. The night sky was more beautiful than anything he had ever seen or expected to see. He was glad to be in the park.but it was worth it to feel the cool. There it was. He gripped the ground securely and threw his weight upward. He watched in wonder as the moon climbed higher and higher until it was completely visible. he quickly threw himself upward again. 8 . It was too much of a strain. Riley saw a lot of people and they threw a surprising amount of trash over the wall. He kept working his roots into Chuck’s burrow and pushing them deeper into the soil. Riley was free to think about other matters. He was growing stronger all the time. His immediate problem of getting his roots underground solved. It was a very cold night in mid-October when he felt that he could stand up straight. He threw his weight upward and when he fell back. The sun was hidden behind some buildings but he could see clouds and birds flying. silvery and radiant. in the open air. surrounded by multitudes of stars. Finally. He would bounce himself up. but looked forward to standing upright and walking farther into the park. It was cloudy so the few people hurrying by wouldn’t be apt to notice him. Then he saw the rim of the full moon peep above the buildings. Heaven only knew what would happen to him if the people found out that he could move himself around. Being so close to the wall with the sidewalk on the other side of it. away from the hordes of people. The first thing that caught his attention was the sky.
Now he got acquainted with crows and bluebirds and robins and many others. with all his roots in the ground.he made it! He swayed a little at first but soon found his balance and stood up tall and proud. The deciduous trees and bushes were ablaze with the glory of autumn. and viburnums had turned red. cotoneasters. Then he looked at a stand of magnificent ponderosa pines and a copse of young fir trees and knew that his own conifers were the greatest trees of all. After a few days they flew away and he missed their merry busyness. Riley watched the birds and animals as they went about their business. stuffing themselves with insects. as if they wanted everyone to know that they didn’t really mean it. Dozens and dozens of bushes and trees. There were a number of chipmunks and squirrels living near the park wall and he enjoyed watching them. hawthorns. They chased one another round and round as they climbed up and down the tree trunks. They fairly glowed with color and Riley almost changed his mind about considering them inferior to evergreens. Riley was exhausted but he was very happy. Being comfortable by that time. He also saw an owl sitting on a branch of a nearby hawthorn tree and some bright red berries glowing softly on a gigantic holly tree. The chipmunks were serious folk. 9 . mostly sparrows and starlings. oaks. orange. Riley had known a few birds when he lived in the tub at the hotel. too. to make friends with them. The maples. the more wonders he saw. tamaracks. each more interesting than the other. and golden. The more he looked. They also gathered seeds for the winter but had plenty of time for frivolity. He looked all around and saw a few people scurrying by on the sidewalk. busily gathering seeds to store away for the winter but the squirrels seemed to be intent mostly on having a good time. He loved to watch the birds fly and was delighted when a flock of kinglets gathered and flew in and out of his branches. He longed to talk to all of them. They chattered and chittered and sometimes they quarreled but there was a cheerfulness even to their scolding.
when Riley had recovered from his journey and was feeling stable and serene again. He looked carefully all around in every direction. Once he saw a red fox and there was a raccoon who waddled by now and then. A cat stood up and stalked away. They were too messy. They were too noisy. Riley had been feeling sorry for the mouse but it seemed as if it was destined to be someone’s meal and he thought it might as well be the owl’s as the cat’s. there were paths and humans used the paths but there were also glades. Riley didn’t need to sleep so he was aware of the lives all around him both day and night. They flowed past him all day and into the night. As he watched. Clearly. He carefully loosened his roots and one night when the moon was playing hide and seek with the 10 .He liked to watch the little animals. That was one of the reasons he had fled from his tub at the hotel. the mouse squeaking in pain and panic. After a couple of weeks. switching his tail in anger. But in the other hundred and eighty degrees of his range. That was another reason he had fled. copses. everything beyond the stone wall was impossible. The owl flew away. He watched the birds and small mammals and saw that they often went in the direction of a particular weeping willow tree. he decided that the time had come to move away from humanity. getting ready to pounce on the mouse for his own dinner. jabbering. There was nothing but the city and more humanity that way. Several feral housecats lived in his corner of the park and he was interested to see that one of them had a shiny collar with lots of tiny stones that glittered in the sunlight. One night he saw the owl perched again in the hawthorn tree. quarreling. and thickets where the paths didn’t go. he could see grass and trees. too. True. He had been crouched. There was a large family of rabbits who hopped around and a pair of ferrets who sometimes scurried past him. the owl glided silently from his perch and swooped down to snatch up a mouse in her talons. shrieking. and laughing. There must be something special about that willow and he decided that he must know what it was.
The moon darted out into the open sky just then and Riley saw another row of willow trees upsidedown to the tall ones. “There they are. It was so beautiful. he slid some of his roots into the soft soil of a flower bed. “Ducks. Here was water as he had never before seen it. It was a large. paddling and diving. stately and lovely in their serenity. always as if controlled by one mind.” yelled a bigger girl. The quiet was suddenly shattered by the loud shrieking of children. and settled again onto the tules. 11 . A pair of swans sailed by. Riley was enthralled by the wonder of it. Riley looked and looked at the pond. When it was fully light he gradually began to notice details. accompanied by a woman. When the sky lightened and the sun prepared to rise. As he got closer.” screamed a tiny girl. he began to walk toward the willow tree. There were tules in a few places at the shoreline. He hadn’t known that water collected itself in ponds because he had only seen it fall in drops from the sky or in a tiny stream from a hose. he could see that there was a whole row of willows. smooth and peaceful.” shouted a little boy. so astonishing. Every bird swooped down. nearly to the surface of the water. Some red-winged blackbirds stood on the tules and as he watched they all flew up into the air and proceeded to fly in synchronized patterns. and rose again into the air. he walked steadily on. ducks. turning and swirling in perfect order. There were birds on the surface of the pond. rushing to the edge of the pond and pointing at the ducks. come on. “Here.clouds. Confused and strangely excited. Riley was close enough now to see that the upsidedown trees were reflections on the surface of a pond. They flew around and around the pond. roundish body. duckies. flat. The deciduous trees were still wearing their autumn colors and the weeping willow leaves were softly golden. At first it seemed as if there were dozens but Riley soon saw that there were only three. tall with their branches arching gracefully.
his neck outstretched. Later. The ducks chased each other away from the food and tried to get as much as possible for themselves. hissing and flapping. also rushed at the woman. hissing fiercely. The woman. seeing her daughter’s danger. The children laughed loudly and delightedly. She stuck out her neck as far as it would go. The bigger girl ran after her mother. It was shallow and he was in no danger but he began to blubber and call for help. the ducks scattered in every direction. Even the swans forgot their poise and came out of the water to quarrel with the ducks for bread. who retreated ignominiously. thinking her mate needed help. The female swan. the children began to chase the ducks. scooped her up in her arms and ran over to retrieve her son from the pond. slipping and sliding on the grass. One of them advanced on the bigger girl. The children were screaming and yelling. Riley realized that the ducks had the situation well under control from the very first but at the time he thought they were in danger and was frightened for them. Whereupon the woman tried to shoo him away. The little boy stumbled at the water’s edge and fell into the pond. flapped her wings and. As the children ran at them. The swans were still hungry when the bread was gone.Each of the children had a bag of bread that had been torn into bites and each began to throw the bread to the ducks. The tiny 12 . The female swan mistook her intentions and thought she was reinforcing her mother by making a counter-attack. While the woman ran from the swans. thinking the sequence of events over. They even came out of the water and the children tossed the bread on the ground. The ducks disgraced themselves immediately. scuttling around the children. The tiny girl fell down and began to wail. hissing angrily. Riley was disgusted with the children for their bad manners in being so loud and rowdy and with the birds for their undignified selfishness. he spread his wings and ran at the woman. quacking loudly and emphatically. The swan was not impressed. ran at the girl. crying for help for her siblings. back and forth. swimming over and making exhibitions of themselves by greedily snatching at the bread.
“I don’t mean to jostle. he didn’t need much water. heads held high. don’t crowd us.” the rhododendrons chorused. Riley shimmied his trunk. “Not much. He nestled in among a thicket of young rhododendrons. “Go ahead. “Be courteous. You all looked so calm and cozy that I came over. “You don’t like people. The ducks saw that the fun was over so they rose in a noisy squad and flew out to the middle of the lake. The woman and her three children retreated to a bench to assess the damage. It was rather funny. kind of horrifying. He immediately set to work to send his roots into the soil. the ground was damp so the dirt was soft.girl sat on the ground and cried. and allowed the recent events to sort themselves out in his mind.” “Okay.” another admonished. “Don’t jostle!” one of the rhododendrons commanded.” rumbled one of the ponderosas. He decided the lakeshore was too heavily populated with people to be enjoyable so during the next few days he made his way to a place where the trees and bushes grew right down to the water. plant yourself. okay. The swans gave a final hiss and went back to the pond and paddled sedately away. wings folded gracefully.” Riley apologized. where they sat down and preened their feathers. fluttered his branches. “Yeah. nodding to the rhododendrons and to the pine tree. “I’m just trying to find a new home away from all the people.” “There’s enough room.” replied Riley. huh?” asked one of the rhododendrons. under a canopy provided by tall old ponderosa pine trees. Since it was cold.” Riley answered. It only took a couple of days for him to get his roots well down and bring water up to his trunk and branches. They were a little dry after being out in the open for several days. then. “Do you?” 13 . and extremely confusing.” “Thank you. Fortunately. once he had rehydrated his roots.
” “We think so.” “Of course we’ve been watching you.” “Three hundred years?” Riley was flabbergasted. though. “We were astonished when we saw you climb out of your tub and hitch onto that taxi. “Trees walking. It’s home.” agreed another. “That’s true. “I had no idea I had an audience.” 14 . We like it here. They seem to be a noisy species and pretty messy. “We saw you when you first came here. But trees jumping – that’s a very different thing. “Not really. we’ve all heard the legends of trees walking.” she said.” Riley didn’t have any comeback for that observation so the conversation lapsed. Late one afternoon.” said another ponderosa.” said a ponderosa.” “You’ve been watching me?” asked Riley. Riley felt sorry for the naked trees until he noticed one night when the moon was bright that the bare branches made lacy designs in the sky. We’ve had lots of time to think over the things we’ve seen and to meditate on the meaning. my.” “No worse than crows.” “Oh. one of the ponderosa pine trees spoke.” said Riley. “Crows are annoying birds.” interjected another rhododendron.” contradicted a rhododendron.” “Smart. “And when you jumped off!” exclaimed another. “You’ve been standing here for three hundred years?” “Of course. They were lovely and he wished that he could make such pretty patterns. You’ve seen so much. “You’re about the only original individual we’ve seen in the past three hundred years. As the days slipped by the leaves of the deciduous trees fell and the wind played games with them. “They are just so cocky they make you think they’re smart. that’s one thing. swirling them up and piling them in drifts.“We don’t see too much of them over on this side of the pond. You must be very wise.
Riley wondered if it were true that they had to take the world as they found it.” another ponderosa explained. It was December by then and Riley decided that he was well situated until warm weather should come again. “And people going to the camas fields or the berry patches. “It was. “Clean? What do you mean?” asked Riley.” corrected another ponderosa. He was shielded by the pines and rhododendrons from the worst of the cold wind and his roots were snug in the soil.” reminisced another ponderosa.” gruffed one of the other ponderosas. this was all forest.” affirmed a ponderosa. he decided that he didn’t. One morning after two days of a terrific windstorm. it snowed and covered his branches with a thick coat that insulated him.” “Except sometimes when the wind blew hard. Privately. The only humans we ever saw were just passing through. “We must take the world as we find it.” said Riley. trying to envision what it would have looked like without the people and pavements and buildings and cars.” “Maybe. too.” said one of the pines. After he’d thought about it a long time.” “It must have been beautiful. a redpoll flew in among Riley’s branches and nestled down close to his 15 . Plus.” “It was clean. “But the creek was where it is now.” “Hunters. then. And they all stopped talking to think about it. “When we were seedlings. The rhododendrons were also clothed in snow and were thinking their rhododendron thoughts in silence. “It was very beautiful.” “There was no pond here. There was no trash on the ground. no dirt in the air. it doesn’t do to get sentimental.One of the ponderosas sighed.” “Well. too. except when the wind blew hard. There were lots more animals and birds. “All right. “I mean clean. He could move on and find a better place if he wanted to. well. We were happier. then.” said Riley.
“You know.” “Yes.” Rufous laughed a little bird twitter.” returned the red poll.” “Well. I’m going to move to the real forest. too. I 16 . My name is Riley.” “I guess most trees don’t but I do. Rufous. thinking he was just a dumb little birdbrain. “Trees don’t move around. I first lived over by the rock wall.” “Wait a minute.” The red poll flew down to the ground and began to skitter around. “When I came to the park. I got very hungry and thirsty. north. Riley let him rest a little while then greeted him. I do. Oh. When I jumped off the taxicab. “When it gets warm again next spring. That was a horrid storm. “My name is Rufous. then what’s a direction?” Rufous was puzzled. He flew back to his perch on Riley and began to eat the seeds from his pouches. “Sure you are. I got separated from my flock and was blown to this place.” Rufous thought Riley might be making fun of him. I used to live in a tub on the sidewalk and when I came to this park.” “You have a direction finder? What exactly is a direction finder?” “Well…it’s a direction finder.” said Riley. You’re a tree.” he observed. “Okay. east. past that big building. whether you believe me or not. south.” “I didn’t always live here. “I am so hungry after two days in that windstorm.” Riley was intrigued. The way to get where you’re going. I am.” “Hi. I guess you never go anywhere so you don’t need to know about directions. quickly picking up tiny seeds that the wind had blown onto the snow and stowing them in his little cheek pouches. and west. you never get hungry. It tells me which direction to fly. I think something has gone wrong with my direction finder because I have no idea where I am or how to find my flock. “You’re lucky.trunk where it was free of snow and relatively snug and warm.” contradicted Riley. I can see it way over there. “Hi.
“I hope I can find my flock again. caribou are big animals. Like deer or elk. I tell you. “Caribou birds! Now I’d like to see them. Some kind of bird.” “If everything is so fine at the Arctic Circle. Food is plentiful and we have great times flying together. Last summer my wife and I raised six youngsters.” said Riley proudly. That made Rufous feel kind of sad but kind of happy. I don’t even know what caribou are. too.” “I never heard of anyone having a summer home and a winter home. that was it. “My summer home is in the north.” “I don’t understand half of what you’re talking about.” Rufous explained. too. where we were before I got separated from them in that storm is our winter home. either.” Riley demanded. near the Arctic Circle. “I don’t know what deer or elk are. like you?” Rufous laughed his little bird twitter again.landed on the sidewalk and there was no soil I could get my roots into.” Riley was beginning to think he was terribly ignorant. I suppose you have never seen the caribou migrate from their summer home to their winter home and then back again?” “No. No.” “Lots of species have more than one home.” he said humbly. I supposed that once one got a home. Riley didn’t have nearly so much to tell but he told Rufous all about the people on the sidewalk and 17 . “Or rather.” “I did. “why did you come here?” “This is our winter home. it kept me busy feeding them all until my wife could leave the nest and forage for them. not birds. Rufous decided to change the subject. I have fine times there with my flock. I don’t know what a taxicab might be but I do know that trees do not jump.” He sighed. He decided that he would tell Riley all about caribou and deer and elk and the taiga and the mountains and the clouds of mosquitoes and how it felt to fly with the flock.
Riley saw the early wildflowers bloom and was amazed and delighted with all the glorious colors and forms he saw. he knew. Deciduous and evergreen. Riley thought seriously about the mountains that the red poll had told him about. Riley began his journey to the mountains in early spring. He was very familiar with the small feral cats in the park but Rufous had talked about big cats. After giving it a great deal of thought. the elderberry bushes put forth 18 . Riley was wild with curiosity and the desire to travel to the mountains. the rhododendrons. Later. young and old. was good because to get to the mountains he would have to climb upwards. too. Rufous had also told him about the forests on the mountains. some with cones.the colored Christmas lights that Humphrey the doorman used to put on him and how the people fed the ducks in the park and that the ponderosa pine trees around them were three hundred years old. From Rufous’ description. some with fruits. That. some like him. The little yellow johnny-jumpup violets and the exquisite pink and purple lady slipper orchids and the pure white trilliums. he wasn’t sure exactly what deer and elk were but he longed to see some for himself. and even the grass. he decided to go as early as the ground thawed and he could get his roots loose. As spring progressed. Cats. They were filled with all sorts of wonders that Riley had never before heard of and certainly had never seen. some of other species. Fortunately for Riley. A couple of days later. when Rufous had flown away to find his flock. So. Thousands and thousands of trees. He followed the creek and soon found himself walking uphill. Mountains sounded awesome. Cats so big they hunted deer. tall and short. That way he would be able to take advantage of the spring rains to keep his roots moist and the ground soft enough that he could stop for a few days to push his roots into the soil and replenish his nutrients. against the advice of the ponderosa pines. the park connected to the forest so he didn’t have to cross any streets or traverse any housing developments.
” offered a hawthorn. “It must have been quite a sight. A few build nests here and raise their families but most of them don’t. “whether we’re more beautiful in bloom or in fruit. “Yes.” “Speaking of passing though. “You’re very beautiful in your spring blossoms.” “What are warblers?” Riley wanted to know. Riley enjoyed chatting with everyone he met as he walked along. “Are they birds?” “Birds they are. “There are too many birds around when our berries are ripe. yeah.” answered the first hawthorn.” Riley said.” he said. also puzzled.” said another hawthorn. “No. “Some of them do. How could you get as big as you are without us seeing you before?” Several other hawthorns chimed in.” contradicted another hawthorn. okay. they just rest here a few days on their way north or south. It would be too noisy to have them around all the time. “A few weeks ago the warblers were here and they added to the landscape a whole new level of lovely. But I’m kind of glad they don’t all stay.” “They don’t live here all the time?” queried Riley. they do. A few weeks ago there were so many you could hardly see the sky when they took to the air. “Little blue and yellow birds.” “In bloom.their frothy white flower clusters and the manzanitas their tiny pink bells.” answered a third hawthorn.” “Oh. But most of them don’t stay.” “I sure would like to have seen that.” said one of the hawthorns. They build nests in the fir trees. They pass through twice a year on their migrations. “I can never decide.” the hawthorn answered. “It’s a sight to behold.” “You consider that the birds detract?” asked Riley. “Not at all. “I never saw you sprout and grow. One day he encountered a dense thicket of hawthorns and fell into conversation with them.” agreed one of the hawthorns.” “Okay. 19 .
” The hawthorns didn’t know much about people and they knew nothing of cities and sidewalks so they couldn’t really understand Riley’ explanation. He merely nodded to them and kept walking. He wondered how it would feel to have a bird’s nest sitting on one of his branches. I think I’d like to live high up in the mountains. “I used to live in a city on a sidewalk and I didn’t like it so I left. “Yeah? We’re trees. occasionally stopping to soak his roots in the creek. At first the hawthorns couldn’t believe he really was walking and yowled derisively. and great mounds of blackberry brambles covered with white flowers.” Riley explained.” objected Riley. It must be rather exciting. They did know that trees do not walk and said so. even if some of us do look more like bushes. The water moved swiftly down the steeper parts of the hills but widened out to move more slowly when the land flattened. He told them goodbye instead and began to walk away. He thought he would like to have one because then he could watch the birds build it and sit on the eggs and see the baby birds when they hatched and learned to fly and everything. most of whom were busy building nests and laying eggs. and I assure you that we do not walk. he watched and listened. pink roses. There were meadows filled with camas and some filled with lupines and others with a mixture of red and blue and yellow flowers.“I’m looking for a home. the early spring flowers faded and the later ones began to bloom.” Riley considered telling them about his escape from the tub and hitching a ride on a taxi and flying into the park but decided that the hawthorns wouldn’t believe it anyway so he didn’t tell them. As Riley slowly moved through the forest. The deciduous trees and bushes were all leafed out and the ones that flowered were in full bloom. Once he saw a 20 . too. There were delicately tinted wild lilacs. He saw many birds as he went. he thought. As spring turned to summer. Riley thought about what the hawthorns had told him about the warblers as he walked along. “I’m a tree and I walk.
“The dog isn’t going to hurt the lamb. She’s just going to keep it from getting separated from the band and lost. Riley’s roots were getting too dry and he needed to soak them well so he walked over to the little creek that ran through the meadow and stood next to a small spinny of aspens. Those trees were old and wise and had seen so many things that one small Riley tree meant little or nothing to them. Riley watched for a couple of days then walked on. some with farm machinery running noisily around them. The ewes had been sheared earlier and their wool was short but the lambs were fluffy. When he came out of the shade of the big woods. The aspens smiled at one another. some with dairy cattle calmly grazing. The water felt so cool and fresh on his roots that he hummed in ecstasy. Riley found the waterfall exceedingly lovely and would have stayed to watch it for several days but all the huge trees were so intimidating that he had the feeling he was invisible to them. They gamboled and cavorted among their dams and seemed to be having lots of fun. He cried out in alarm. See?” 21 . he found himself looking down at a valley of farms.” one of the aspens told him.smaller creek join the one he thought of as his. He looked along the creek and was astounded to see it hurl itself over a cliff to churn and swirl at the bottom before it calmed down to flow reasonably quietly in its bed. Somewhat later Riley saw a small black and white dog and watched as it ran after a lamb. There was a cluster of buildings with cars and trucks moving among them and along the road on each side. thinking the lamb was about to become a meal for the dog. In surprise he looked at a band of sheep who were grazing on the rich grass. “It’s all right. which he very well may have been. He moved on up the hillside. The banks of both creeks were covered with enormous ferns over which towered fir and cedar trees. There were green fields. He had never seen sheep before and they fascinated him. He came to a wide meadow and stopped at the edge of it.
But it only does that if it sees someone trying to get at the sheep.” said Riley. “Sure. “She’s a sheep dog and it’s her job to keep the sheep from wandering off and getting lost or eaten by a cougar or a coyote. It’s his job to look after these sheep. “A job is something that one is supposed to do. Like the sheepherder’s job is to tend the sheep. But I’ve seen lots of people and lots of those things with wheels. One of them explained. setting their little heart-shaped leaves shaking.” amended another aspen. back to the meadow and the other sheep. He goes into it at night and doesn’t come out until morning. “When the dogs bark. You know what a job is. The aspens smiled at one another over his head. “We didn’t know the name of them.” said one of the aspens. Sheep. And what may a sheepherder be?” Riley inquired.” 22 . Cars and trucks. job.” Riley looked in the indicated direction and saw the man disappear inside the thing. the sheepherder comes out with a long stick kind of thing and sometimes it makes a loud noise and creates a nasty smell. The sheepherder sometimes takes the smaller one away somewhere but he leaves the other one.” “That’s what these animals are called? Sheep?” The aspens laughed. “See that man over there by that thing on the bank of the creek? Upstream a little ways.” “I don’t think I do. Haven’t you ever seen sheep before?” “No. He’s going inside the thing now. “Sure. The dog turned the lamb and urged it away from the forest.” “Ah.Riley saw.” “Job?” This was a concept that was new to Riley. “Yes.” “Sheepherder. they’re called.” “Unless the dogs bark. Is that a sheepherder?” “Right. The man is a sheepherder. “That’s amazing.” said an aspen. “Not really.” said Riley.” Riley said.
talking to the aspens and trying to understand about sheepherders and jobs.Riley stayed there for a couple of weeks. He looked up and down the creek and saw that it was running over big rocks a little ways upstream. he was puzzled. He stayed for days but when it began to rain. saying it was unnatural for trees to walk. He said goodbye to the aspens. This one was wider and deeper. who implored him to stay. He also saw that there was another little black and white dog and the two of them worked together to keep the sheep from straying. Sometimes the sheepherder whistled and the dogs would jump up and run this way or that but mostly the sheepherder let the dogs do their job their own way. Riley was mesmerized. Riley liked watching them and watching the water but after a couple of days he walked on up the creek. He continued uphill and came to another creek. It was very beautiful with ferns and moss and big old fir trees. on the beach. The water curled and foamed and looked rather dangerous. little brown and white birds. at the bottom of a gorge. When the trees let the sunlight through. there was the creek. He went over to the edge of a bank and to his surprise. He observed the sheepherder as closely as he could and thought that he had a very fine job. although he could still hear it. He stopped at a little sandy beach and waded out to let his roots soak. When he first noticed that the creek was no longer visible. took his roots out of the creek and began to walk upstream. darting around picking up insects with their beaks. He hadn’t gone far when he came to an opening in the trees and saw that a huge old fir had fallen right across the gorge. At length he came to a place where the brush was too thick for him to walk along the creek bank. One bright moonlit night Riley decided it was time to move on. millions of rainbows filled the air and every drop of water that sprayed above the surface of the creek had a tiny rainbow inside it. He walked along the edge and followed it as it curved around. He had never imagined such beauty as this. the rainbows went out and he moved on. And that 23 . There were some killdeer.
As quickly as he could. Why on earth did you do that? You might have known it was wet and slippery and you would most likely fall off. all he could do was hope for the best as the water made all his decisions for him. It was a miracle of sheer beauty. He fell into the creek and was swept downstream.” exclaimed a mink who was sitting on the beach. I saw you walking. I’ve certainly never seen them walk before. trying to compose himself. The torrent carried him so fast that he didn’t even know if he was hurt or not. It was enchanting. of lacy foam and silky flow. Nor bushes.wasn’t all. He struggled to steer away from the boulders but found he had no control at all. And you did. too. Most folks think trees can’t walk. he could see the waterfall perfectly. But I walk.” “I know. he could walk on a log. he forgot his precarious footing and slid sideways. Riley looked and looked. Even trees think that. After what seemed a long time but was really only a couple of minutes.” “I’ve never seen anything like it. The trees closed in so that he couldn’t see it better by moving towards it but he thought he could see it if he walked out onto the fir log that spanned the gorge.” 24 .” “Oh. The water fell in a wide cascade over a precipice then tumbled over boulders in a multi-level cataract. “My goodness. He tried to grasp the log but it was slippery with the rain.” went on the mink. He was whirled and twirled. I’ve never seen so much as a thistle walk. dunked and sunk. I saw you get up on that log and start to walk across it. “Are you all right?” Riley wasn’t sure. Riley had no time to think or even to feel much. either. And as he looked. half in the water. he pulled himself completely out of the creek and lay on the sand. He hesitated but finally decided that if he could fly. He heaved his roots up on the log and carefully edged his way toward the center of the gorge. “I don’t think so. He was right. “I didn’t know trees could walk. he found himself lying half on the beach. He could glimpse a waterfall upstream.
He felt around with them and encountered something solid. that’s all that really matters. “Was seeing the waterfall worth falling into the creek and nearly getting drowned?” “Oh.” And with that. The next morning the warm sun felt good on his branches and needles but he knew his roots would quickly shrivel.” It occurred to Riley that he had now been swimming. He thought about that for a while and realized that if he didn’t have a large rock or solid ground to grip. Naturally. he was not going to do that.” The mink couldn’t understand that at all. First flying.” said the mink. He looked all around and 25 . She didn’t see why this tree was making such a big deal about it.Riley decided he didn’t like this mink very much. “If you’re satisfied. He pushed his roots into the sand of the beach and gave a heave but his roots popped out of the sand. “I guess that’s all that needs to be said. But he was too shaken to stand up as yet and didn’t want to antagonize anyone while he was so vulnerable. it was well worth falling into the creek. “I wanted to see the waterfall and I could only get a glimpse from the creek bank. then. Hmmm. He decided to roll off the beach to higher ground where there would be suitable soil for him to dig his roots into. At last he bounced high enough to stand. just the size he needed. “The waterfall is stupendously gorgeous.” the mink observed. It was a large rock. was it worth it?” “Worth it?” “Seeing the waterfall. He was getting to be a very accomplished adventurer. she sauntered off. Yes. Riley rested the remainder of the day but that night he decided he’d better set about getting himself upright again. “Well. She was so small that she could see the waterfall from the bank and cross on the log any time she wanted to. intent on her own affairs. yes. he would have to lie where he was forever. Riley wrapped his roots around it tightly and began to bounce on the ground. He was a little wobbly and dizzy for a few minutes but soon stood straight again.” said Riley. now swimming. he thought proudly.
I’ve never actually seen a tree walk before. Then I’m going to continue my journey. “Hi. but after a while one of the cedars addressed him.” stated one of the fir trees. He needed to get his roots into the soil and absorb as much nutrition as possible before the ground froze. not knowing what to think of a mobile tree.” “Neither have I. And. “Up into the mountains.” mused a ponderosa. He sidled into a good spot and pushed his roots into the ground. as well as several kinds of firs. it’s like…” Riley didn’t know how to explain it. “It’s kind of like having a very soft breeze blowing through your branches only you are making the breeze. Riley told them the story of his life. There was a big meadow surrounded by tall ponderosa pines. “You could have blown me over with a zephyr when I saw you walking up towards us.then walked away from the beach and into the forest alongside the creek. By this time it was late summer and Riley thought he’d better find someplace to spend the winter. but I want to go up even higher. however.” “Where are you going?” asked a tamarack.” agreed the cedar. “Have you come to stay or are you just passing through?” “Hi. you keep 26 . He found the perfect place. how he’d once lived in a city in a tub on a sidewalk and had decided to move to the mountains. “Well. “Well. “You’re already in the mountains. sort of. The other trees weren’t very talkative just at first. He forebore to mention either flying or swimming.” “What’s it like? Walking?” asked a very young tamarack.” answered Riley.” said the cedar. “Why?” asked the cedar. “I’ve heard of trees walking.” answered Riley. wide cedars. both. moving upstream. “But I always thought those stories were myths. and yellow tamaracks. I’m going to spend the winter here if it’s all right with you. of course.” said Riley. “Yes.
There were five males and two females. Birds can fly is the biggest difference.” said a fir. and at night they made a fire and sat around it. They talked of hunting and of the trophy bucks they expected to bag. all sorts of ideas and subjects and Riley enjoyed it very much. They chattered and laughed and seemed to be having a very good time.” the ponderosa said pacifically. “So they can eat them.” said the young tamarack. “It has nothing to do with cleverness. It just seemed an odd way to put it. I have seen some very beautiful things. 27 .seeing different things all the time. walking up higher into the mountains. “They fly everywhere and see all kinds of things that we never see.” “The birds tell us of things like that. “So you think flying is the biggest difference in birds and trees.” the talkative cedar said. You’re quite possibly right. There is a waterfall that is the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen.” “What is hunting?” asked Riley. “They call it camping and in the summer they bring their youngsters.” “Birds are very clever. “Trees are just as clever as birds.” a tamarack answered.” put in one of the firs. They drove up in a couple of small trucks and Riley watched curiously as they unloaded their gear and set up tents and a stove and other equipment.” contradicted the cedar. Riley asked the other trees if they often had people come into the forest. “Oh. what is the biggest difference?” demanded the cedar.” One of the ponderosas laughed. do you?” “If you’re so clever. Then one day some people came into their little bit of forest. “Fairly often. During the day they mostly left their camp. In the autumn they come to hunt and they leave the youngsters at home. I don’t disagree. “It’s killing animals. The trees discussed many things over the next few weeks. While they were gone one day. They flit about and see things that are out of our viewing range.
but sometimes the females’ feet are pointed and have things that look sort of like claws on the bottom at the back.” said Riley. They always seemed to be busy going somewhere and didn’t pay much attention to each other. He thought about that then asked. we don’t see these people much in the daytime but they are certainly convivial at night. They’re mostly sort of flat on the males. “For one thing their feet are not the same shape. “I’ve often thought how lucky we trees are that we take our nourishment as we do without all that messy eating. animals and birds eating each other looks pretty unpleasant.” “Yes. “How are they different?” the cedar asked. these people’s feet. “What kind of animals do people catch?” “Hunt.“Oh. For that matter.” Riley said. “I have seen people eat and very unpleasant it looks.” corrected the tamarack. “These laugh and talk together a lot. are heavier looking and they’re all brown.” “And how is their behavior different?” asked a tamarack. it does. Of course. too. males and females.” opined one of the ponderosas. Like owls and mice. they look different and they behave differently. “Well.” Riley offered.” Riley said thoughtfully. too.” 28 . “I think these people are a different species from the ones I saw in the city. the females. Now. “They eat but not exactly like these. The ones I saw in the city ate things out of bags or wrappers instead of out of pots and kettles as these do.” “Do your city people eat like these do?” wondered one of the firs. “How do the people in the city look?” one of the firs asked. sometimes. “It seems to me. It makes them walk funny. too.” said Riley.” “It seems very odd to me. The ones I saw in the city didn’t.” agreed a ponderosa. They’re all different colors. too. “that we have two distinct species of people. “They hunt deer and elk.” There was a chorus of agreement. much.
” commented Riley. During the day they mostly lay among the trees and chewed their cuds.” the rabbit said. They came down the mountain in small groups and cropped the grass in the meadow in the early morning and evening. “It was very exciting to watch you.“Not that it matters. thinking the rabbit had disappeared into the warren. Still. “Grace is my name. After the people went away Riley saw some deer. To his amazement.” The trees mused on that and then each followed his or her own train of thought. panting and trying to catch her breath.” said the ponderosa. Grace gave him a look. really. “You are quite the escape artist.” he introduced himself. Riley was sure it did matter to the people and the trees but couldn’t figure out exactly how it mattered. “Yeah. who trotted off in disgust. He turned his attention to the birds and other animals in the vicinity. the rabbit ran so fast and leaped so prodigiously and zigzagged so cleverly that she outdistanced the coyote.” 29 . He found the rabbits more companionable. Riley told her that the coyote had gone away and she was safe. Really. the rabbit had stopped at Riley and crouched on his roots. “Not to us anyway. One day he watched as a coyote chased one of the rabbits. “Thanks.” “Yeah. he enjoyed watching them as they moved gracefully to and fro.” said the cedar. Their warren was in a brushy area adjoining the meadow and that’s where they spent most of their time. He tried to strike up a conversation with several of them at different times but found them uninterested in conversing with a tree. It may to them. “I’m Riley. jumping’s a good thing. “I guess it doesn’t.” she said dryly. “The way you leaped so high in the air and came down such a distance from where you started.” Riley added admiringly.” gasped the rabbit. When she had calmed down a bit.
I suppose not. “It was pretty to see.” Grace said wryly. I just don’t seem to care much about him missing a meal.” “You know what?” Grace inquired. I once lived with some ponderosa pines that were three hundred years old but they didn’t tell me what years are. If I had ever been caught and eaten. I just don’t know. remembering that the groundhog hadn’t reacted well to the story. since he had me slated for his dinner.Riley almost told her about the time he jumped off the taxi but. although it means the coyote will go hungry. “I lived in a city under an awning. “I do? I’m sorry.” “No. But having never been caught and eaten. “You keep talking as if you hadn’t lived right here your whole life. I’m glad you escaped. thought better of it.” agreed Riley. How could you have lived anywhere else? It’s not like trees migrate like geese or even blow in the wind like dandelion seeds.” said Grace carefully. “Tell me.” Riley said. “Interesting and full of drama. “I can’t get too worked up over the coyote’s hunger pangs. does it hurt when you get caught?” Grace gave him another look. too.” “New are you? How old would you say you are? Ten. I don’t even know what a year is. I would know. though. “So is that zigzag running that you do.” said Riley. fifteen years?” “I don’t know. I didn’t like it so I moved to the park and then up the hills to these mountains. I’m new in these woods and I’m trying to learn all about my neighbors. “I found it pretty interesting. I don’t mean to irritate you.” 30 . “To tell the truth. Next spring I’m going to move higher up into the mountains.” “Yes. What’s the matter with you? You ask the dumbest questions.” “I’m so glad you found it entertaining.” “I did live somewhere else. I mean.” Riley was surprised.” “Listen. I don’t know.” said Riley thoughtfully.
rich with grass and bordered by shrubs and flowers. He told her about his travels and the waterfall and all the beautiful things he’d seen. “It isn’t easy and it’s very slow but that’s what I did.Seeing that Grace was about to burst with indignation at the thought of the tree telling her such prodigious lies. A rowdy stream. creating a fascinating waterfall. “We saw him walk up from the creek.” Grace thought that over for a few minutes. “But it’s still incredible. How? He has no feet. Across the stream 31 . the talkative cedar interjected. He said goodbye to all his tree friends and Grace and other animals he had gotten acquainted with. The slope of the mountain was covered with Douglas fir trees.” “I walked on my roots. “If you all say so.” Riley said. “He walked here.” “He really did. and a few tamarack trees.” With that she hopped away. It was early summer when he came to a place that was so beautiful and so interesting that he decided to put down his roots and stay there forever. There was a relatively level meadow. He told her all about the city and even about his adventure on the taxi. I don’t know anything about the city and the awning but he didn’t grow here. with a long copse of quaking aspens on its banks. But she came back at intervals that winter and had many long conversations with Riley. That took a couple of visits because she was three years old and was mother to more than sixty baby bunnies.” the hawthorns chorused.” said a ponderosa.” said Grace.” chimed in the fir trees. rushed down and threw itself over the edge of a cliff. “I know what you’re thinking. In turn she told him about life in the rabbit warren and about her babies. rabbit. then he began to walk uphill again. “It’s true. Riley decided to move on. When all the snow was gone and the earth was getting warm and the plants were growing again. but Riley really did walk here. He spent a few days wiggling his roots to loosen them until he was able to pull them out of the ground. ponderosa pine trees. I’ll have to believe it.
That’s what the birds are eating. nearly a mirror image of the one Riley stood on.rose another mountain. The other trees deferred to the Douglas firs who advised him to stand among them.” the other tree agreed. He told his companions about the aspens he’d encountered when he’d seen the sheep and the sheepherder and how they had exchanged 32 . flitting through the bushes. in their shade. which they agreed was perfectly comprehensible considering his nomadic life. He had seen aspens in their fall colors before but had never seen so many or had a chance to gaze his fill on their beauty.” “I see. They stop here for the chokecherries. The bluebirds only stayed a couple of days then flew on. where the bluebirds are making such a fuss.” “That’s right. Riley was enchanted when the aspens turned golden in the fall. a credit to his species.” said Riley. as the little bluebirds twittered excitedly.” said Riley. this was as nearly perfect a place as he was apt to find for his home. Riley walked to the spot they indicated and sent his roots deep into the soil.” one of the ponderosas told Riley.” “Sure. They noted that he was not as robust as a tree his size should be. and allowed them to help him select the place to put down his roots. “See those tall bushes across the meadow? There. he thought. Accordingly. “They mostly live up north but when it gets cold. And he heard. as the other trees smiled upon him. intent on getting to their winter home in the warm sun of Mexico. who welcomed him. too.” “Chokecherries?” queried Riley. glad of a companion who could tell tales of his travels. “They come every year about this time. they fly south where it’s warm. “The birds all love chokecherries and the bluebirds stop here every year to eat on their way south. gorging on the deep purple cherries. One day a flock of bluebirds appeared from the north. He conversed with the local trees. but they wanted him to grow strong and vigorous. Yes. “They have little round fruits.
It was a cold but sunny day when Riley saw his first black bear. All the same.” “Oh. bawling loudly. “Is The Plan what makes coyotes eat rabbits and water jump off cliffs?” “Exactly.” “The Plan?” asked Riley.” said Riley thoughtfully.” “Beavers? What are beavers? What are dams?” Riley wanted to know. Seeing her. And it’s what makes bears eat berries and beavers build dams. they hoped that people would not decide to live with them. I never heard of it. These trees didn’t know much about people and found Riley’ stories of them enthralling. She stopped among the aspen trees and stood on her hind legs.” Riley huffed. It’s all part of The Plan. “is what makes everything fit together. “It doesn’t hurt them. It keeps us all working smoothly together. “Well. they eagerly feasted while their mother stood on her hind legs and bent the tallest branches over to get at the fruit. Finding the new food good.information. “No. She caught the scent of the chokecherries and dropped to all fours. “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t know about The Plan. Riley watched and wondered aloud if it hurt the chokecherry bushes to be bent like that and to have their fruit eaten. It’s what keeps birds doing birdsome things and trees doing tree-like things. Their mother rushed to the chokecherry bushes and began to eat.” she added. stopping now and then to sniff something or look around interestedly. 33 . “Exactly. stretching up to sniff. “What’s The Plan?” “Haven’t you ever heard of The Plan?” asked one of the Douglas firs. “The Plan.” one of the pines answered. They tumbled over each other.” said the oldest Douglas fir. Then Riley saw that there were two cubs with her. play fighting and enjoying themselves. the cubs stood on their hind legs and tasted the cherries on the lowest branches.” said the oldest Douglas fir. The animal ambled along beside the stream.
it’s stunning. He contemplated how everything he had seen on his long trek fit into The Plan. cutting down trees for food and for dam repairs. building their houses out in the middle of the pond. The beavers moved to a new place downstream and built a new dam and the pond filled up completely and was now a meadow.” He did think of it. that for a tree to walk was a violation of The Plan. simply stupendous. And how some beavers moved in and made a dam. How the dam held the stream back and formed a pond. He saw now that trees were not meant to walk.” “Trees don’t normally walk.” “But I walked. “Why.” snorted the oldest Douglas fir. 34 . Riley told him about being an aberration and how it saddened him. “And trees are not supposed to walk. That made him feel very sad.” agreed the oldest Douglas fir. He was the only aberration to the wondrous Plan. you are the epitome of obedience to The Plan. “Nonsense.” the oldest Douglas fir finished.” stammered Riley. Except himself. “You are not an aberration at all. How the beavers lived there for many generations. gradually. the dirt the stream brought from higher up the mountain filled in the pond until it was no longer deep enough for the beavers to live in. You were doing what was right for a tree to do. “but what they are not meant to do is grow in a tub under an awning on a city street where humans throw trash on their roots. “All part of The Plan. and raising their kits.So the oldest Douglas fir told Riley how the meadow used to be just part of the forest with a branch of the stream flowing through it. “I must think about this. The oldest Douglas fir noticed his sadness and asked him about it one day when the birds were flitting around building their nests and singing their songs and the chipmunks were frolicking and the plants were bursting into bloom. When you left that tub and walked and flew and swam to get here. you were obeying the laws of The Plan. That is what was a violation to The Plan. And how. He thought of it all winter and into the spring.” gasped Riley.
He weathered many storms and saw several of his friends struck by lightening. A pair of robins built a nest on one of his branches and he was nearly as glad as they were when their eggs hatched and the baby birds clamored for food. He knew when the plants would flower and when they would retire underground for the winter. Always he bore in mind The Plan and that it guided the lives of every living thing. Riley stood there in the forest for nearly a thousand years and grew more than three hundred feet tall. As he grew taller he could see all around for many miles and grew wise in the ways of the plants and animals. he knew the migration habits of many kinds of birds. He knew when to expect the wind and from which direction. 35 . He knew the migration routes of the deer and elk. He survived two wild fires and was narrowly missed by an avalanche. He knew when the berries and fruits would be ripe and which animals ate which kinds. He wasn’t an aberration after all.” The other trees all nodded in agreement. The other trees were proud of him.It took grit and courage and determination but you did it and we’re all very proud of you. As the days went by his happiness grew. This was what his part of The Plan called for: to stand in the forest with his peers and do all the things that trees are meant to do. Riley stood up as tall as he could. He saw seedlings from his own cones take root and grow and it gave him a sense of the continuity of life. His pride was almost as great as the robins’ when the babies took their first flight from the nest. It gave him great joy to shelter the babies from the hot sun and the rain and the wind.