Trees can't tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood "wishtree"people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red's branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red's hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood.
You might say Red has seen it all.
Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red's experience as a wishtree is more important than ever.
Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, this is Katherine Applegate at her very bestwriting from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.
This book has Common Core connections.
|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It's hard to talk to trees. We're not big on chitchat.
That's not to say we can't do amazing things, things you'll probably never do.
Cradle downy owlets. Steady flimsy tree forts. Photosynthesize.
But talk to people? Not so much.
And just try to get a tree to tell a good joke.
Trees do talk to some folks, the ones we know we can trust. We talk to daredevil squirrels. We talk to hardworking worms. We talk to flashy butterflies and bashful moths.
Birds? They're delightful. Frogs? Grumpy, but good-hearted. Snakes? Terrible gossips.
Trees? Never met a tree I didn't like.
Well, okay. There's that sycamore down at the corner. Yakkity-yakkityyak, that one.
So do we ever talk to people? Actually talk, that most people-y of people skills?
Trees have a rather complicated relationship with people, after all. One minute you're hugging us. The next minute you're turning us into tables and tongue depressors.
Perhaps you're wondering why the fact that trees talk wasn't covered in science class, during those Mother Nature Is Our Friend lessons.
Don't blame your teachers. They probably don't know that trees can talk. Most people don't.
Nonetheless, if you find yourself standing near a particularly friendly-looking tree on a particularly lucky-feeling day, it can't hurt to listen up.
Trees can't tell jokes.
But we can certainly tell stories.
And if all you hear is the whisper of leaves, don't worry. Most trees are introverts at heart.
Name's Red, by the way.
Maybe we've met? Oak tree near the elementary school? Big, but not too? Sweet shade in the summer, fine color in the fall?
I am proud to say that I'm a northern red oak, also known as Quercus rubra. Red oaks are one of the most common trees in North America. In my neighborhood alone, hundreds upon hundreds of us are weaving our roots into the soil like knitters on a mission.
I have ridged, reddish-gray bark; leathery leaves with pointed lobes; stubborn, searching roots; and, if I do say so myself, the best fall color on the street. "Red" doesn't begin to do me justice. Come October, I look like I'm ablaze. It's a miracle the fire department doesn't try to hose me down every autumn.
You might be surprised to learn that all red oaks are named Red.
Likewise, all sugar maples are called Sugar. All junipers are called Juniper. And all boojum trees are called Boojum.
That's how it is in tree world. We don't need names to tell one another apart.
Imagine a classroom where every child is named Melvin. Imagine the poor teacher trying to take attendance each morning.
It's a good thing trees don't go to school.
Of course, there are exceptions to the name rule. Somewhere in Los Angeles there's a palm tree who insists on being called Karma, but you know how Californians can be.
My friends call me Red, and you can, too. But for a long time people in the neighborhood have called me the "wishtree."
There's a reason for this, and it goes way back to when I wasn't much more than a tiny seed with higher aspirations.
Every year on the first day of May, people come from all over town to adorn me with scraps of paper, tags, bits of fabric, snippets of yarn, and the occasional gym sock. Each offering represents a dream, a desire, a longing.
Whether draped, tossed, or tied with a bow: They're all hopes for something better.
Wishtrees have a long and honorable history, going back centuries. There are many in Ireland, where they are usually hawthorns or the occasional ash tree. But you can find wishtrees all over the world.
For the most part, people are kind when they visit me. They seem to understand that a tight knot might keep me from growing the way I need to grow. They are gentle with my new leaves, careful with my exposed roots.
After people write their hope on a rag or piece of paper, they tie it onto one of my branches. Usually they whisper the wish aloud.
It's traditional to wish on the first of May, but people stop by throughout the year.
My, oh my, the things I have heard:
I wish for a flying skateboard.
So many wishes. Grand and goofy, selfish and sweet.
It's an honor, all the hopes bestowed upon my tired old limbs.
Although by the end of May Day, I look like someone dumped a huge basket of trash on top of me.
As you've probably noticed, I'm more talkative than most trees. This is new for me. I'm still getting the hang of it.
Nonetheless, I've always known how to keep a secret. You have to be discreet when you're a wishtree.
People tell trees all kinds of things. They know we'll listen.
It's not like we have a choice.
Besides, the more you listen, the more you learn.
Bongo says I'm a busybody, and I suppose she has a point. She's my best pal, a crow I've known since she was nothing but a pecking beak in a speckled egg.
We disagree sometimes, but that is the way of all friends, no matter their species. I've seen many surprising friendships during my life: a pony and a toad, a red-tailed hawk and a white-footed mouse, a lilac bush and a monarch butterfly. All of them had disagreements from time to time.
I think Bongo is too pessimistic for such a young bird.
Bongo thinks I'm too optimistic for such an old tree.
It's true. I am an optimist. I prefer to take the long view on life. Old as I am, I've seen both good and bad. But I've seen far more good than bad.
So Bongo and I agree to disagree. And that's fine. We're very different, after all.
Bongo, for example, thinks the way we trees name ourselves is ridiculous. As is the custom with crows, Bongo chose her name after her first flight. It may not be her only name, however. Crows change names on a whim. Bongo's cousin, Gizmo, has had seventeen names.
Sometimes crows adopt human names; I've seen more Joe Crows than I've seen sunny days. Sometimes they name themselves after things that catch their fancy: Poptop, Jujube, DeadRat. They'll name themselves after aerobatic maneuvers: DeathSpiral or BarrelRoll. Or after colors: Aubergine or BeetleBlack.
Many crows opt for sounds they're fond of making. (Crows are excellent mimics.) I've met crows named WindChime, EighteenWheeler, and GrouchyCabDriver, not to mention a few others that are not appropriate for polite company.
Down the street lives an aspiring rock band composed of four middle schoolers. They practice in a garage. Their instruments include an accordion, a bass guitar, a tuba, and bongo drums.
The band has yet to perform outside of the garage, but Bongo loves to sit on the roof and sway to their music.
Names aren't the only way we differ from crows.
Some trees are male. Some trees are female. And some, like me, are both.
It's confusing, as is so often the case with nature.
Call me she. Call me he. Anything will work.
Over the years, I've learned that botanists — those lucky souls who study the lives of plants all day — call some trees, such as hollies and willows, "dioecious," which means they have separate male and female trees.
Lots of other trees, like me, are called "monoecious." That's just a fancy way of saying that on the same plant you'll find separate male and female flowers.
It is also evidence that trees have far more interesting lives than you sometimes give us credit for.
One thing trees and crows have in common — in fact, one thing all the natural world has in common — is the rule that we're not supposed to talk to people.
It's for our own protection. At least that's the theory.
I've often wondered if the endless silence is a good idea. There've been so many times I've wanted to speak up, to intervene, to help people. I've never said a word, though. That's just the way the world has always worked.
Have there been slip-ups? Sure, mistakes have been made.
Last year I heard about a frog named Fly, who'd been napping in a mailbox. (All frogs are named after bugs they enjoy eating.) When the mailman opened the box, Fly leapt out with a frantic croak. The mailman fainted.
He woke up to Fly, who was apologizing profusely, squatting on his forehead.
Clearly, a breach of the Don't Talk to People rule.
But as always seems to happen, the incident was soon forgotten. After all, the mailman was absolutely certain that frogs can't talk. "Just hearing things," he no doubt told himself.
Interestingly enough, he retired not long after the frog incident.
In any case, when you consider the number of trees and frogs and otters and wrens and dragonflies and armadillos and everybody else in the natural world, you'd think people would have caught on to our little secret by now.
What can I say? Nature is tricky. And people are ... well, sorry, but most of you aren't that observant.
Perhaps you're wondering, if you're a curious or doubting sort, just exactly how trees communicate. You may find yourself inspecting a nearby ponderosa pine, perhaps, or an aspen or sweet gum, puzzling out the magic.
People speak with the help of lungs, throats, voice boxes, tongues, and lips, thanks to an intricate symphony of sound and breath and movement.
But there are plenty of other ways to convey information. An eyebrow cocked, a giggle stifled, a tear brushed aside: These, too, are ways you express yourself.
For a tree, communication is just as complicated and miraculous as it is for humans. In a mysterious dance of sunlight and sugar, water and wind and soil, we build invisible bridges to connect with the world.
Frogs have their own ways of connecting. Same for dogs. Same for newts and spiders, elephants and eagles.
How exactly do we do it? That's for us to know and you to figure out.
Nature also adores a good secret.
I'm not just a tree, by the way. I'm a home. A community.
Folks nest on my branches. Burrow between my roots. Lay eggs on my leaves.
And then there are my hollows. Tree hollows — holes in a trunk or branch — are not uncommon, especially in trees like me who've been around awhile.
Hollows can be small enough for tiny salt-and-pepper chickadees or a family of deer mice. Or they can be quite large, big enough for an open-minded bear.
Of course, I'm a city tree. We don't get a lot of bears around here, unless they're of the teddy variety. But I've hosted more than my share of raccoons, foxes, skunks, opossums, and mice. One year I was home to a lovely and exceedingly polite porcupine family.
I've even sheltered a person.
Long story. (I have lots of those, stored up the way a squirrel hoards acorns.)
Hollows happen for many reasons. Woodpeckers. Fallen branches. Lightning. Disease. Burrowing insects.
In my case, I have three hollows. Two medium-sized ones were made by woodpeckers. The largest one happened when I was quite young. I lost a large branch that was weakened by wet snow during a nor'easter. It was a big wound, slow to heal, and my spring leafing that year was paltry, my fall color pale (and, frankly, embarrassing).
But eventually the hole healed, widened with the help of insects, and now, about four feet off the ground, I have a deep oval hollow.
Hollows offer protection from the elements. A secure spot to sleep and to stash your belongings. They're a safe place.
Hollows are proof that something bad can become something good with enough time and care and hope.
Being a home to others isn't always easy. Sometimes I feel like an apartment complex with too many residents. Residents who don't always get along.
Still, we make it work. There's a lot of give-and-take in nature. Woodpeckers hammer at my trunk, but they also eat annoying pests. Grass cools the earth, but it also bickers with me over water.
Every spring brings new residents, old friends, and more chances for compromise. This spring in particular has seen quite the baby boom. Currently, I am home to owl nestlings, baby opossums, and tiny raccoons. I am also visited regularly by the skunk kits who live underneath the front porch of a nearby house.
This is unprecedented. Never have I sheltered so many babies. It just doesn't happen. Animals like space. They like their own territory. Normally, there would be arguing. Perhaps even a stolen nest or a midnight battle.
And certainly, there've been some disagreements. But I've made it clear that eating your neighbors will not be allowed while I'm in charge.
Me, I don't feel crowded at all having so much company.
Making others feel safe is a fine way to spend your days.
I have one more community member, although "visitor" is probably a better way to describe Samar.
In January, she moved with her parents into one of the houses I shade, a tiny blue house with a sagging porch and a tidy garden. She is perhaps ten years old or so, with wary eyes and a shy smile.
Samar has the look of someone who has seen too much. Someone who wants the world to quiet itself.
Soon after moving in, Samar began sneaking into the yard once her parents had fallen asleep. Even on the coldest nights, she trudged outside in her red boots and green jacket. Her breath was a frosty veil. She would stare at the moon, and at me, and sometimes, at the little green house next door, where a boy who looks to be about her age lives.
As it grew warmer, Samar would venture out in her pajamas and robe and sit beneath me on an old blanket, spattered with moonlight. Her silence was so complete, her gentleness so apparent, that the residents would crawl from their nests of thistledown and dandelion fluff to join her. They seemed to accept her as one of their own.
Bongo especially loved Samar. She would flit to her shoulder and settle there. Sometimes she would say "hello," in a fine imitation of Samar's voice.
Often Bongo gave Samar little gifts she'd found during her daily flights. A Monopoly token (the car). A gold hair ribbon. A cap from a root beer bottle.
Bongo keeps a stash of odds and ends in one of my smaller hollows (which the opossums kindly tolerate). "You never know who I might need to bribe," she likes to say.
But her gifts to Samar weren't bribes. They were just Bongo's way of saying, "I'm glad we're friends."
If this were a fairy tale, I would tell you there was something magical about Samar. That she cast a spell on the animals, perhaps. Animals don't just leave their nests and burrows willingly. They are afraid of people, with good reason.
But this isn't a fairy tale, and there was no spell.
Animals compete for resources, just like humans. They eat one another. They fight for dominance.
Nature is not always pretty or fair or kind.
But sometimes surprises happen. And Samar, every spring night, reminded me there is beauty in stillness and grace in acceptance.
And that you're never too old to be surprised.
I was pleased to see Samar's family join the neighborhood. It had been a long while since we'd had any newcomers. But I knew that with time they would put down roots, just like so many other families from so many other places.
I know a thing or two about roots.
One night not long ago, Samar came out to visit. It was two in the morning. Late, even for her.
She had been crying. Her cheeks were damp. She leaned against me and her tears were like hot rain.
In her hand was a small piece of cloth. Pink with little dots. Something was written on it.
A wish. The first wish I'd seen in months.
I wasn't surprised she knew about the wishtree tradition. I'm kind of a local celebrity.
Samar reached up, gently pulled down my lowest branch, and tied the fabric in a loose knot.
"I wish," she whispered, "for a friend."
She glanced over at the green house. Behind an upstairs curtain, a shadow moved.
And with that, Samar vanished back into the little blue house.
Excerpted from "Wishtree"
Copyright © 2017 Katherine Applegate.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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