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It is sunrise in the Teatown Woods of New York's Hudson Highlands. Rebecca, a young explorer, climbs a beech tree to the canopy-the highest layer of plant life-to begin her vigil for the mysterious ovenbird. I'll know an ovenbird, she says to herself. Uncle Luke said it's a wizard. A wizard does magic. That's easy.
During her day-long outing, Rebecca discovers that wizardry abounds in this magnificent woodland. She is enchanted by the magic of a flying squirrel, disappearing deer, and wood ducklings. But Rebecca does not know in which layer-the canopy, shrub, or field-the ovenbird lives. And the elusive bird keeps her waiting.
Newbery Medalist Jean Craighead George vividly describes the beauty and symbiotic relationships present in the Northeastern Deciduous Forest. Her lyrical prose, enhanced by Gary Allen's thoughtful, detailed illustrations, exquisitely captures a young girl's spirit of adventure and sensitivity to nature.
About the Author
Jean Craighead George wrote over one hundred books for children and young adults. Her novel Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1973, and she received a 1960 Newbery Honor for My Side of the Mountain. She continued to write acclaimed picture books that celebrate the natural world. Her other books with Wendell Minor include The Wolves Are Back; Luck; Everglades; Arctic Son; Morning, Noon, and Night; and Galapagos George.
"I began drawing before I could talk," says Gary Allen. "My family always knew I would become an artist, because I constantly drew pictures on the wall as high as I could reach." Gary Allen wen on to study art at the State University of New York College at New Paltz and is now a designer at The Culinary Institute of America In Hyde Park, New York. He lives in High Falls, New York, with his wife and stepson.
Read an Excerpt
A fat robin flew out of a beech tree at 5:52 A.M. It was the instant of sunrise on May the third.
He screaked. A young girl was climbing his nest tree. His eggs were under siege, his home threatened. His cry alarmed his mate, and she sneaked quietly off her nest but flew only as far as a nearby twig. The girl was familiar. She had climbed the nest tree before.
For the past several days Rebecca, a ponytailed explorer, had explored the robins' beech tree. She had climbed with care, placing her feet firmly before she reached up through the yellow-green leaves of spring to take hold of the smooth gray limbs. Today she climbed more boldly and higher than she had ever gone before. Near the top she threw her leg over a strong limb and sat, feet dangling, one arm around the trunk. The robin returned to her nest.
Rebecca was in the canopy of the woods. The canopy is the top of five layers of plant life in the woodlands of the eastern United States. Under the canopy grows the shrub layer, a community of bushes, shrubs and young trees. Below the shrub layer is the field layer, where the ferns, wildflowers and ground cover of red partridgeberries and ground pine grow. Under the field layer lies the litter. This is a layer of fallen leaves and trees. It gathers tons of new material every autumn, and it would stack up to the treetops were it not for its residents, the fungi, bacteria and small animals. They convert the dead trees and leaves back to the soil from which they came. The soil is the bottom layer of the woods. Seeds and nuts take root there, find nourishment and grow into trees, shrubs and wildflowers.
Each layer is aneighborhood that shelters wild birds and beasts. Some never leave their friendly layers, eating, sleeping and raising young where they were born. Others wander through one or two layers; and still others, like the squirrels, make use of every neighborhood-from the canopy, where they collect nuts, to the soil, where they bury them.
Rebecca looked down through the layers that together make up the glorious community called the Northeastern Deciduous Forest, the forest of falling leaves. Poets call it the woods.
The tree sitter was not thinking about the five layers of the woods this spring day; she was in the beech tree to find an ovenbird, a warbler whose home is the deep woodland. "When you find an ovenbird," her uncle Luke, a naturalist, had said, "you will have found the wizard of the woods."
Finding a wizard was Rebecca's idea of a worthwhile expedition. She had gotten up before dawn, packed a lunch and walked down the dim trail into Teatown Woods, a beautiful woodland in the Hudson Highlands of New York.
She began climbing the beech tree at sunrise.
"I'll know an ovenbird," she said to herself. "Uncle Luke said it's a wizard. A wizard does magic. That's easy."
Rebecca settled herself in the tree crotch as comfortably as she could.
"Uncle Luke also said the ovenbird has large eyes that sparkle like a woodland lake. Its white breast is streaked with black tear-shaped jewels, and it wears an orange cap on its head. It sings, 'Teacher, teacher,' with a voice so loud it can drown out a brass band. Then he said something strange: You don't have to find the ovenbird; the ovenbird will find you if you sit very still. I am sitting very still and no ovenbird has found me."
What Uncle Luke had not told Rebecca was which layer or neighborhood the ovenbird lived in, and so she was searching the rustling canopy, where warblers fly.
A gray screech owl, who had stopped his hunting at sunrise, soared to the beech tree and quietly slipped into his hollow. He hunted by night and slept by day. Rebecca grew uncomfortable. She shifted her position, and her magnifying glass slid out of her daypack. It fell, knocking against the yellow male flowers of the beech tree and exploding their pollen into the air. The pollen touched down on clusters of pale female flowers and had them fertilized by the time the magnifying glass hit the ground. Rebecca always carried this glass when she walked in Teatown Woods, a reservation near her home set aside by her neighbors to preserve a beautiful bit of primeval woodland. Uncle Luke had given her the magnifying glass for her birthday. He had showed her how it made small things more enchanting. It magnified tiny flowers into large bells, and insects into perky monsters. Small fish became whales at sea. Little dewdrops looked like big puddles under the lens of the magnifying glass.
She heard it hit the ground, looked down and saw it propped against a twig. She would get it when she climbed down.
As the sun rose higher, it shone through the transparent new spring leaves of the many kinds of trees in the woods. Each glowed with a different shade of green.
The beeches shone yellow-green, the sugar maple leaflets were a pale pinkish-green, the chestnut oaks were olivegreen and the ash trees gleamed silver-green. There were blue-greens, orange-greens, gray-greens. The spring woods on May the third were a cathedral window of more than one hundred fifty sunlit greens, a different color for each species of tree. By June all the differences would be gone, and the forested landscape would be solid June-green.
Into the beech tree sailed a small black-tan-and-silver squirrel, a flying squirrel. She coasted like a paper airplane through the twigs and alighted on a branch not far from Rebecca. Upon seeing her, the squirrel did an amazing thing: She walked boldly down a thin twig to within inches of Rebecca's face. The flying squirrel was not afraid of human beings, for she had never seen one before. She lived in the canopy, where no people lived, and she went about her duties at night, when most people were asleep.