Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Update...

Today, just an excerpt from Flipped. It's pieces like this that make me love reading. Those high schoolers better be glad I'm not teaching this year, because we'd definitely be writing a response to this one!

Mostly the things he talked about floated around me, but once in a while something would happen and I would understand exactly what he had meant. "A painting is more than the sum of its parts," he would tell me, and then go on to explain how the cow by itself is just a cow, and the meadow by itself is just grass and flowers, and the sun peeking through the trees is just a beam of light, but put them all together and you've got magic.

I understood what he was saying, but I never felt what he was saying until one day when I was up in the sycamore tree.

The sycamore tree had been at the top of the hill forever. It was on a big vacant lot, giving shade in the summer and a place for birds to nest in the spring. It had a built-in slide for us, too. Its trunk bent up and around in almost a complete spiral, and it was so much fun to ride down. My mom told me she thought the tree must have been damaged as a sapling but survived, and now, maybe a hundred years later, it was still there, the biggest tree she'd ever seen. "A testimony to endurance" is what she called it.

I had always played in the tree, but I didn't become a serious climber until the fifth grade, when I went up to rescue a kite that was stuck in its branches. I'd first spotted the kite floating free through the air and then saw it dive-bomb somewhere up the hill by the sycamore tree.

I've flown kites before and I know - sometimes they're gone forever, and sometimes they're just waiting in the middle of the road for you to rescue them. Kites can be lucky or they can be ornery. I've had both kinds, and a lucky kite is definitely worth chasing after.

This kite looked lucky to me. It wasn't anything fancy, just an old-fashioned diamond with blue and yellow stripes. But it stuttered along in a friendly way, and when it dive-bombed, it seemed to do so from exhaustion as opposed to spite. Ornery kites dive-bomb out of spite. They never get exhausted because they won't stay up long enough to poop out. Thirty feet up they just sort of smirk at you and crash for the fun of it.

So Champ and I ran up to Collier Street, and after scouting the road, Champ started barking at the sycamore tree. I looked up and spotted it, too, flashing blue and yellow through the branches.

It was a long ways up, but I thought I'd give it a shot. I shinnied up the trunk, took a shortcut across the slide, and started climbing. Champ kept a good eye on me, barking me along, and soon I was higher than I'd ever been. But still the kite seemed forever away.

The below me I noticed Bryce coming around the corner and through the vacant lot. And I could tell from the way he was looking up that this was his kite.

What a lucky, lucky kite this was turning out to be!

"Can you climb that high?" he called up to me.

"Sure!" I called back. And up, up, up I went!

The branches were strong, with just the right amount of intersections to make climbing easy. And the higher I got, the more amazed I was by the view. I'd never seen a view like that! It was like being in an airplane above all the rooftops, above the other trees. Above the world!

Then I looked down. Down at Bryce. And suddenly I got dizzy and weak in the knees. I was miles off the ground! Bryce shouted, "Can you reach it?"

I caught my breath and managed to call down, "No problem!" then forced myself to concetrate on those blue and yellow stripes, to focus on them and only them as I shinnied up, up, up. Finally I touched it; I grasped it; I had the kite in my hand!

But the string was tangled in the branches above and I couldn't seem to pull it free. Bryce called, "Break the string!" and somehow I managed to do just that.

When I had the kite free, I needed a minute to rest. To recover before starting down. So instead of looking at the ground below me, I held on tight and looked out. Out across the rooftops.

That's when the fear of being up so high began to lift, and in its place came the most amazing feeling that I was flying. Just soaring above the earth, sailing among the clouds.

Then I began to notice how wonderful the breeze smelled. It smelled like...sunshine. Like sunshine and wild grass and pomegranates and rain! I couldn't stop breathing it in, filling my lungs again and again with the sweetest smell I'd ever known.

Bryce called up, "Are you stuck?" which brought me down to earth. Carefully I backed up, prized stripes in hand, and as I worked my way down, I could see Bryce circling the tree, watching me to make sure I was okay.

By the time I hit the slide, the heady feeling I'd had in the tree was changing into the heady realization that Bryce and I were alone.


My heart was positively racing as I held the kite out to him. But before he could take it, Champ nudged me from behind and I could feel his cold, wet nose against my skin.

Against my skin?!

I grabbed my jeans in back, and that's when I realized the seat of my pants was ripped wide open.

Bryce laughed a little nervous laugh, so I could tell he knew, and for once mine were the cheeks that were beet red. He took his kite and ran off, leaving me to inspect the damage.

I did eventually get over the embarrassment of my jeans, but I never got over the view. I kept thinking of what it felt like to be up so high in that tree. I wanted to see it, to feel it, again. And again.

It wasn't long before I wasn't afraid of being up so high and found the spot that became my spot. I could sit there for hours, just looking out at the world. Sunsets were amazing. Some days they'd be purple and pink, some days they'd be a blazing orange, setting fire to clouds across the horizon.

It was on a day like that when my father's notion of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts moved from my head to my heart. The view from my sycamore was more than rooftops and clouds and wind and colors combined.

It was magic.

And I started marveling at how I was feeling both humble and majestic. How was that possible? How could I be so full of peace and full of wonder? How could this simple tree make me feel so complex? So alive.

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