Of Gardening and Scarlet Tanagers

“You know what the garden needs?” he asked his granddaughter.

“More flowers?”

“That too,” he said, “but it could use some flat stones to separate where the grass meets the flowers.”

“Okay,” she said, wondering what grandpa was talking about. She was ten, but planting a garden was still new to her.”

“We can go take a couple bags down to the creek, the one that runs through the woods,” he said. “It’s also a good day for a little walk through the woods. Maybe we’ll see a Scarlet Tanager.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a bird,” he said, “a very pretty red bird, but we’ll have to be very quiet or it will stay hidden.”

“Will we have to tip-toe?” she asked.

“That might be good, but mostly we’ll have to stay on the path and not talk.”

That was okay with her because she liked to tip toe. It was hard to do, but she thought she was very good at it.

The forest was only a couple blocks away and the creek was only about a five-minute walk into the woods.

“Shhh,” grandpa said as they left the sidewalk and started on the dirt path. “Just stay right behind me, try not to step on any sticks, and try not to talk.”

The granddaughter looked out into the woods as they walked. She didn’t know what she was looking for, but she was watching for anything red. By the time they got to the creek she hadn’t seen anything red, other than a few leaves.

“No Scarlet Tanager,” grandpa said, “Maybe on the way back.” He bent over at the creek’s edge and picked up a small, flat grey-blue stone.”

The creek was six or seven feet wide and the water was moving fast after a series of thunderstorms the past few days. Normally, he’d hop across on the rocks that had long ago been rolled into place so people wouldn’t have to wade into the water. He thought he could probably carry his granddaughter across, but it was the trip back that concerned him, carrying her and a couple bags of rocks.

“This is what we’re looking for. We don’t want them to be round like a ball, but more like a squished ball.”

“Like a little pancake?”

“Exactly, that’s very good, like a little, flat pancake.”

He scanned the area for any signs of poison ivy or poison oak but didn’t see any. He noticed what looked like a small patch of watercress growing at a bend in the creek about 15 feet away and made a mental note to check it out.

“You look here on this side of the path,” he said. “Here’s a bag, put the stones you find in here. I’ll look there, on the other side of the path.”

About twenty minutes later his bag was noticeable heavy with rocks. Then he found one that was perfectly round, nicely flattened and had a good feel to it.

“Do you know what the best thing is about these rocks we’re collecting?”

“They’re pretty?”

“They are, aren’t they,” he said, “but they’re also good for skipping.” As he said that he pulled his arm back and bounced across the water the stone he’d been holding  the water.

His granddaughter knew about skipping stones. She’d watched a couple boys from school doing it at the pond in Sunnyvale Park. She took one of the stones out of her back and threw it at the water. It didn’t bounce. It just sank to the bottom.

“This is how you do it,” He said holding one of the stones out so she could see how he was holding it.

Five minutes later reached into his bag for another rock, felt around the bottom, but it was empty.

“You got any stones left in your bag?” he asked.

She looked into her bag. “Just three.”

“You know what I think?” he asked

“That we need more rocks?”

“Not at all, not at all,” he said. “I’m thinking we’ve got three more rocks to skip.”

But he was wrong. They skipped ten more stones.

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