Chapter 1. Hilltop
“To understand and appreciate the message of an old oak tree
means more for a good life than all the books of man.”---Jens
Jensen, American landscape architect.
He sat on top of a hill, thinking
thoughts that didn’t have names yet.
Below was a town of 12,000, an idyllic little wish of a
town made of tract houses and quiet streets and barking dogs and oak
trees and station wagons.
Oak trees, oak trees, oak trees.
They were in front yards, back yards. They lined the hills,
dotted the valleys, decorated the pastures, outlined the creeks,
hung maternally over rooftops. Gnarled, unmoving, ancient. Rooted
deep in the earth, their reaching-hand branches seeming to clutch
They held the world together.
They held his world together.
He was seven years old, and his name was Charlie.
He sat, looking. At the distant purplish-blue mountains, at
the nearer skyline of dumpling hills and rock-crested semi-mountains
that looked like old volcanoes. At the houses that wound around like
ant trails, and grouped together in mobs. Blue ones, pink ones,
green ones, white ones, yellow ones. Three one-storeys, then a
two-storey, then the ones again. Disappearing behind the oak trees,
ducking into a shallow valley, rising out again.
He watched a car make its way along newly laid, black
asphalt roads that cut the gentle green meadows up like Pythagoras
cut up the universe. Then another. Here a ‘61 Falcon, there a
brand-new ‘62 Mercury wagon full of dogs and kids and Saturday
morning grocery bags, here a ‘56 Buick with surfboard on top.
He sat with blue jacket arms wrapped around knees, rocking
back and forth in the new morning sun. His jeans were stained at the
knees with mud and grass, his black Converse All-Stars soaked with
dew so that his toes made squishy noises when he walked. His eyes
were bright and brown, and his brown hair stuck out three-quarters
of an inch from all sides of his head.
A flock of crows laughed overhead, raucous complement to
the short songs of meadowlarks in the brush. A couple of buzzards
circled with deceptive laziness above a broad field spreading out
below. Somewhere in the distance, lions roared. You could hear them
late at night, and sometimes in the mornings, all the way across
town from Jungleland, the zoo for movie star animals.
Charlie Bogle took a deep breath of chilly morning air that
tasted sharply of sage and chapparal, and he wondered about things.
He wondered what he might be like when he was a teenager, like his
two brothers. Or twenty---an adult! Or. . .forty! As old as his
father! No, that could never happen---not for a hundred years, at
least. . .
He wondered a little about the world beyond the dumpling
hills and rocky crests and purplish-blue mountains. He’d seen it
from a car once or twice; he’d glimpsed Law Sangeles, and the
beach, and the wide freeways and big movie theaters. But he didn’t
wonder too much. That was where city people lived. Where adults
looked worried and wore suits and kids looked like they knew too
much. His world was full of oak trees and boys and girls with shiny
faces and TV-show lunch pails who rode big happy orange-yellow buses
into the morning sun.
He looked down the big, chaparral-thick hill, over its
curved slope that was just steep enough to make you have to zig-zag
when you ran down, toward his house below. It was a comfortable
house, but it was new and strange, and it had a different feeling
about it at different times. Kind of depended on who was inside. If
it was just him and his brothers, it was a place to eat whatever you
wanted, watch TV whenever you wanted, call pals on the phone. If Pop
was there, too, it was a place where he felt he belonged more than
any other place in the world. If she was there, though, it didn't
feel that way. He couldn’t put his finger on it. It was just
It was a pink house, a simple, rambling three-bedroom
layout with a peaked cathedral wood-shingle roof, friendly front
windows, and a lawn well interrupted by fresh gopher mounds. It sat
on top of a hill of its own, at the end of a long driveway, with a
view of the whole town.
The town was The Oaks, but he thought it should have been
Ten Thousand Oaks, or Several Million Oaks, or Endless Oaks. From
his bedroom window, he could look down on the soft fields, and his
friends’ back yards, and his brothers’ new high school, and the
winking red beacon of the radio station, and the oak trees that went
on as far as you could see.
It was kind of strange, living on top of a hill, because it
made him feel apart from everybody. Kind of nice, yes, but kind of
strange. But then, his parents seemed to like it that way. They were
city people, who drove off to their jobs in Law Sangeles every day.
They loved The Oaks, but they weren’t part of it, not the way he and
all the other kids were.
A commotion behind him. A scurrying. A thump-thump of feet
on the packed earth and the crunch of a broken bush, and. . .whoosh.
A small brown dog zipped by, black shiny nose thrust forward, ears
flattened, paws digging into the wet ground, propelling itself
forward. Just behind a spring-loaded jackrabbit not quite the size
of a tomcat. Then. . .crunch and whoosh again as both
disappeared into thick brush.
“Come on, Sweetie,” he yelled. “Let’s go home.”
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