Berkley edition / October 1993
First Electronic Edition/July 2011
In Memory of Bert Myer James
The day everything started, Freddie and I had been gathering firewood most of the afternoon.
We were a week into the big backpacking trip—“we” being the Sunset Hills Junior High Ecology Club; our faculty sponsor, Mrs. Castillo; and her husband—and we were going to have a bonfire that evening, to celebrate reaching the halfway mark right on schedule. But that afternoon we’d ended up on a stretch of ground that fire had gone over about twenty years back, and so far the second growth hadn’t gotten past the underbrush-and-sapling stage. Gathering sticks and kindling for a really big fire turned out to be quite a job—especially since Mr. Castillo didn’t seem to think any stack of wood shorter than the person who gathered it was enough.
“Talk about overkill,” I said, as Freddie and I carried the last rucksack loads of kindling back to camp. “If Mr. Castillo had been in charge of building the Ark, Noah would have wound up with a boat the size of the New Jersey.”
“It still wouldn’t have been big enough for all those animals,” said Freddie. He’s always coming up with lines like that; in science class, Mrs. Castillo used to say that Freddie was one of nature’s skeptics.
“Honestly, Freddie,” I said. “Don’t you know a joke when you hear one?”
“Sure,” he said. “Just the same, Val, with the few people the Ark had aboard, there wouldn’t even be enough of them to shovel all the—”