Manuel was listening to his tree so hard that he didn’t hear his teacher call. He was looking so intently at the terrain of its trunk that he didn’t see the other children go. His tree’s leaves backlighted against the morning glowed so green, he didn’t leave.
Mr. Larsen, the balding, red‑faced, reading program volunteer sent to find him, walked heavily into the thicket where the tree lived. His calling voice was obscured by the trees’ voices, drawn out by a brisk and billowing wind. He half resented being sent on the errand, ready to chew the kid out. Then he saw Manuel, listening now to a scrub jay noisily protesting the invasion of its territory.
Mr. Larson had attended this school. He had often played in this thicket with other boys and girls. The trees were still familiar to him. Now he too listened. From the school border came the low, surflike roar of huge blue spruce. The sycamores shading the play area cheered to the clanging of metal swivel hooks on the tetherball poles.
A lull. Bells clanged for grades 3 to 6 recess.
Manuel startled, turned to run, and bumped into a large knee. He looked up and smiled when he recognized the man. He patted the trunk nearest him. “This is my tree. His name is Woody.”
Mr. Larsen knew about the second‑grade program. “I’m pleased to meet him. Manuel, why did you adopt Woody out of all the other trees?”
The boy looked at the diagonally growing trunk, all inner branches broken off with the passage of many years and children, and he patted it affectionately again. “He’s had some hard times. See those scars?” His hand touched a knot. Then his face tensed as he expressed another thought: “He’s kind of little. He’s littler than the other trees and grows in his own way. Maybe somebody walked on him when he was a baby. But look.” He pointed to a higher branch. “He’s got good, big leaves. He’s growing bigger.” The grin was as brilliant as the light that patterned his face.
Mr. Larsen saw the tree bend in a new gust and whisper something to the boy who patted it once more before he turned to go in.