Standard disclaimer: No, I don't own it.
I Think That I Shall Never See
Trees had to be the coolest things in the world, Sam thought as he climbed. Not just because they offered shade, but because they were so perfect. Charlie Brown's Christmas tree had obviously been drawn by somebody who hated trees, because there was no such thing as an ugly tree. He agreed totally with the poet who'd said, "I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree."
Trees had personalities, just like people. There were impressive towering redwoods that must be in the Who's Who of Trees, graceful willows which swayed like a mother rocking her baby, flirtatious palm trees with their fronds like cheerleaders' pompoms. There were coarse-textured trees whose bark really was worse than their bite, and sharp, prickly trees that warned "Stay away from me."
Sam preferred the more welcoming trees--there was nothing like a good oak for climbing. Not that there weren't all kinds of terrific trees in the world to climb! When he was ten, in Florida, he'd climbed a banyan tree with a tremendous cluster of trunks together that was bigger than the family car.
Sam's father had threatened to leave him there if he hadn't come down from the bleep-bleep tree, and that was a tough call. The thing that decided Sam was the fact that they were going to Sea World the next day, and he really wanted to see the dolphins. Dolphins were pretty cool, and it turned out that the seals sounded just like his dad bellowing, which was pretty funny. (He knew better than to say that to his dad, though.) He never forgot climbing that gigantic banyan tree. It was the best part of the whole trip. That was definitely Sam's second favorite tree, ever.
The very best tree Sam ever climbed was out behind Grandma Milly's house. There was a fork, about twenty feet up, that was shaped as if it had been grown just for him. Like God had placed that acorn in the ground and grown that tree for the sole purpose of giving him shelter. (He'd fallen asleep up there once, and gotten a thorough hiding afterward.) It was a mighty oak, and Sam remembered from the age of seven or so scrambling up its branches to hide from his cousins during family gatherings. The older cousins picked on him, the little ones squealed like puppies, and the only one who was his age was his so-perfect cousin, Mary Sue.
Catch her climbing a tree? He settled down onto a comfortable branch. No way. She never did anything that might make a mess of her perfect clothes or her perfect hair. Sam always had scrapes somewhere--knees and elbows, mostly--and his clothes were always patched. His mother, who had to patch them, said with exasperation that she should have called him Charlie after the Little Tramp, since he always looked like a ragged hobo.
Sam finally got around to seeing one of the Little Tramp's old movies - just so he'd know what he was being accused of - and that had led him to the second coolest thing in the world, after trees. And maybe dolphins - or should he have them on a separate list, like the coolest things in the water? Or should he just say the coolest person? No question: Buster Keaton. He liked Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd was all right, too, but Buster Keaton was just It. One of the back-to-back movie channels was showing Silent Stars of the Silver Screen one Saturday afternoon, and there was a Buster Keaton comedy on after "City Lights". Twelve-year old Sam sat on the plaid couch with his mouth hanging open, watching this guy in a neat hat do all kinds of amazing gags.
That was the day everything changed. Before that, he brought home notes that said things like: "Sam daydreams in class too much. He won't participate." After he discovered Keaton, though, the notes were different, more urgent: "Disrupts the class with his antics. Won't settle down." - "Sam's clowning has to stop; it is interfering with his classwork." Or Sam's particular favorite, from his tenth-grade Social Studies teacher: "Somewhere, a village is missing an idiot. I suggest you send Sam there." That was kind of funny. Who would've thought Miss Kincaid had a sense of humor like that? (Of course, that was just before she Went Away For A Long Rest, and Sam never got to find out if she'd meant it as a joke, since he dropped out of school a couple months later.)
Since then, he'd spent a dozen years drifting from one job to another. It wasn't easy getting work when reading and writing were involved...printed words were Sam's enemy. They were sneaky. Their shapes seemed to twist as he looked at them; he could usually figure out what something meant if he had a chance to look at it without distraction, but most of the time, that wasn't good enough. So, he cleared tables or did yard work, but the great thing about it was, you could do that anywhere. Maybe he really was the hobo his mother always said he looked like, but Sam traveled, and climbed trees all over the country.
This particular tree was beside his cousin Mike's house. Mike wasn't his favorite cousin - he said mean things about Sam sometimes - but at least Sam had a place to crash while he saved up a little money to take him to the next place he hadn't seen. He wasn't sure was he was looking for, and he hoped he'd know it if he saw it. It had to be something as unique as a tree, as amazing as Keaton - how could he not recognize something like that?
Although Sam wasn't too crazy about Mike, his tree was pretty nice. And another cool thing was, Mike's house was right by some train tracks, so he could watch the trains rumble past, making the tree shiver and rattling the windows in the old, white house. Another train was coming soon - he could hear it, maybe a mile away. A car approached the tracks from the other side, and just made it past as the gates were coming down.
The black car eased down the street as Sam watched. He didn't know a lot about cars, but it was one of those things that looked like a station wagon was fooling around with a pickup truck and this was their offspring. As it came closer, he could see the person in the passenger seat was wearing a white motorcycle helmet. (Geez, and Mike thought Sam was an oddball!) What was even more surprising, she - he was pretty sure it was a girl, unless it was a guy with long hair wearing a blue dress and a helmet - the passenger - actually noticed him. People hardly ever looked up into trees, he knew. Sam had once spent several embarrassing-but-educational hours up an elm tree while a couple picnicked below him. But Helmet Girl looked squarely at him as the car went past, and he wondered if she climbed trees, too.