The jeep pitched over a rock mound and rattled the two passengers inside. They’d evaded the charging elephant, but when the safari guide, Mr. Dadja, recovered his senses, he realized something was wrong. He pressed the gas pedal, the engine revved, the back tires continued to spin, and yet, they didn’t move forward.
“Are we stuck?” inquired Maryanne.
“It would seem so. I think the axle is broken” replied Mr. Dadja.
“Broken?” Said Maryanne.
“Yes, Maryanne,” said Mr. Dadja. “We are stuck, and the axle is broken.”
“What is the axle?” asked Maryanne.
“You see, Maryanne, there is a whole system of parts that keeps this jeep running. The gasoline is energy that goes into the engine, the engine turns the axle, and the axle turns the wheels.”
Maryanne was still a little confused, but she and Mr. Dadja exited the vehicle anyway. While Mr. Dadja checked underneath the vehicle, Maryanne explored the surroundings. The temperature was warm, and the sun was almost directly above her, although its rays showed faintly through the gray billowing clouds. She wondered if that meant it would rain.
Everything was much larger than she'd ever realized. Pebbles appeared like boulders, ants and box-elder bugs appeared the size of full-grown dogs, and dandelions grew on all sides of her and rose far above her head. Their broad leaves blocked her from observing beyond them. She feared the elephant would crash through the leaves at any moment, and she recalled its long white tusks. “Oh no!” She thought and ran behind one of the jeeps tires.
Mr. Dadja turned from inspecting the axle and saw Maryanne’s feet from underneath the vehicle. He pulled his head out to meet her face to face.
“Put that cowboy hat on, and come with me. The axle is indeed broken, but everything will be okay.”
Maryanne grabbed her cowboy hat from the front seat. A chicken feather stuck out from the hat’s band. As soon as she put the hat on, she felt her courage return. One of the dandelions had turned into a large white puff of seeds, and almost instinctively she ran up to the stalk and started shaking it. Several seeds detached themselves and floated away. When the seeds found soil, they’d grow into new dandelions. Perhaps Maryanne would float away like a seed one day and grow tall in a patch of soil she found too. She could be like a dandelion, or even better, she could be a pine tree!
In the direction that one of the seeds floated, a massive tree trunk rose from the ground. Mr. Dadja and Maryanne pushed through tall grass and dandelion leaves to the base of the tree. Beneath their feet, brown pine needles lay scattered in a wide circle around them. Above their heads, large branches stretched outward and held green clumps of needles from their ends. Maryanne walked up to the tree and inspected its bark. Shadows filled the crevices, it was rough, and smelled like butterscotch.
She gave the tree a hug with tiny arms that barely stretched the trunk's massive circumference. Then she felt the tree start to shake. The huge limbs and the ground shook too.
“Maryanne! Watch out!” Mr. Dadja shouted. “Quick, run towards me.”
Maryanne ran towards the outstretched arms of Mr. Dadja and they both fell to the ground. He laid over the top of her like a shield. A large pine cone fell beside them, and they crawled over to it for shelter, although it did not provide much. Heading their direction and approaching fast was a Brachiosaurus. One of its legs was nearly the size of the tree trunk, and its neck reached nearly to the tree’s top.
The Brachiosaurus reached the tree and stopped. Mr. Dadja and Maryanne used the opportunity to back further away. They kept moving backwards, while gaping upward at the giant lizard creature, until they backed into a giant mound. The Brachiosaurus swung its tiny head in every direction, as though searching, then it rumbled onward.
“Wow!” Mr. Dadja said. “That was incredible! That dinosaur must have been 1,000 times the size of the elephant” (although in truth a Brachiosaurus was about 10 times the size of an elephant.)
“Where did it go?” Maryanne asked.
“It probably went to look for other food. Plant eating dinosaurs would not have liked to eat pine needles. They would have much preferred large leafy plants and ferns. They belonged to a different climate.”
“What is a climate?”
“I appreciate that you ask so many questions, Maryanne, and that is a good one. A climate is the weather conditions over a long period of time. Our climate is generally dry and cool, whereas during Brachiosaurus’s time, the climate was humid, meaning there was a lot more moisture and rain. Here, take my hand, let’s climb to the top of this mound and see what more we can see.”
When Maryanne and Mr. Dadja reached the top of the mound, they sat down to catch their breath. Scattered across the landscape in front of them, a variety of animals from the African continent stood obscured by grass, dandelions, and other colorful low-lying purple and white flowers. There was a lion, zebra, giraffe and baboon. The elephant, too, stood in place not far from the jeep. None of the animals moved.
“Do you think those animals like it here?” asked Maryanne.
“They must like it well enough. Wild things only appear in wild places.”
Bees buzzed from flower to flower, pollinating each in their self-interested pursuit of nectar. Like gasoline, the nectar provides the bees energy, and like an engine, the bees rotate the flowers life-cycle, and like a wheel, the flowers drive the ecosystem forward. If any one part of the ecosystem breaks, then the whole thing stops moving.
Just then a magpie, as large as any of the African animals, flew on top of a towering fence and searched the ground. Maryanne followed the magpie’s eyes to a giant millipede close to the base of the mound. It zig-zagged over rocks and twigs searching out decaying plant matter and other dead bugs for its own meal. Before it could get far, however, the magpie swooped down and pecked it off the ground. The magpie then looked Maryanne directly in the eye, said “Yum,” and flew to the top of the pine tree, leaving behind a blue, black, and white feather where it once stood.
Maryanne, forgetting where she was, gleefully jumped from the mound and put the feather in her hat next to the chicken feather. She could now see the chickens on the other side of the fence, and she could hear them squawking.
“Well, I guess we better pick up the toys,” Mr. Dadja said as he reached for the lion. “It’s starting to rain a little.”
“But I’d like to go to the park,” Maryanne pouted.
Mr. Dadja considered how long the rain might last. Two unicorns approached him and Maryanne from the other side of the yard. They each climbed on one of the unicorns and flew across a rainbow that had formed in the sky. Onwards to the park. Onwards to their next adventure.
What synonym does the author use for Jeep?
Why might you use a synonym?
Can you think of synonyms for these words off the top of your head….
Little, find, evaded, thought
How does the author describe the time of day?
In what other ways could you describe the time of day without reference to a clock?
What does the description of the weather forebode?
Why do you think the cowboy hat gives Maryanne courage?
What metaphor does Maryanne see to describe her future?
Can you name parts of a dandelion from the description? What is a dandelion's life cycle?
Why is the dinosaur unhappy with the pine tree?
After reading the whole story, why do you think Mr. Dadja said the Brachiosaurus was 10 times the size of the dinosaur?
How is nature like a system of parts?
Create your own Wild Yard Safari
Set up toys, and explore the yard from the perspective of a much smaller person. Have fun, take pictures of what you see. Once you’re finished, reflect on the experiences in a journal.
Form a hypothesis to answer the question.
Why have trees evolved with pine needles in dry climates, versus broad deciduous leaves in wetter climates?
Test the hypothesis.
Gather broad leaves from a deciduous plant, and pine needles from a pine tree. Soak each inside water. Time how long it takes to completely dry the leaves with a blowdryer. Write down the results.