This may come as a shock to many of you. But when I was young, the subject I hated the most in school was reading comprehension. Nothing made me cringe like those long boring texts that ended with a series of questions or a book report. I had such a hard time reading long stories if the subject was not something I was completely engrossed in.
So you can imagine the panic that crept through my body when my fifth grade teacher assigned us to read a long story about a giant redwood tree to be followed by a thorough book report of said tree.
Do any of you remember those elementary school readers? This one in particular had four stories in the book and all of them were made up of chapters. I’m guessing the goal was to get 10-year-olds accustomed to reading long chapter books.
Not being a nature fan – or that of reading comprehension – I was terrified to read this long story about a boring tree. How on earth could 50 pages exist about the life of one tree?! I put off reading the story for as long as I could until one day I broke down to my mom. I was in tears telling her there was no way I could possibly read this story. So to help lessen my fears (and make sure I didn’t fail fifth grade), my mom offered to read the story aloud with me. My mother, a nature lover at heart, was probably thrilled to read about a big tree in the forrest. That coupled with her patience and experience as a kindergarten teacher, she probably felt right in her element with me.
So one afternoon, we sat together on the couch and she read aloud this story of the redwood tree named Wynona. My mom read the story in such a way that made the tree seem like a real person. The way she articulated the words describing the seasons and what was occurring around the tree in the forrest was mesmerizing. I found myself on the edge of my seat dying to know what was happening next to Wynona. When we got to the chapter about a great fire breaking out in the Redwood forrest, my heart pounded as we read each word, waiting to see if the fire would take Wynona.
By the time we finished the story, I was in tears. For this giant redwood lived so many years in the forrest and survived so much change around it. In fact, I couldn’t wait to write the book report because I remembered the entire story, almost word for word.
While I’m sure the author’s words and descriptive text played a part in the beauty of the story, I can’t help but think my mom’s reading of the tale brought it alive for me. She gave what would have been a plane redwood tree in the forrest a personality and a voice. Her inflections brought new dimensions to nature.
Come to think of if it, i have no idea if the tree was even named Wynona. Maybe my mom invented the name to give it a life (she does stuff like that). However she did it, mom ended up turning what I thought was a boring book that I dreaded into one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I had. In fact, I cannot remember any other stories I read during that fifth grade year (or any other year of school).
Thank you, mom, for making Wynona the Redwood Tree come alive for me all those years ago, and for showing me how a simple element of nature can have such a deep and complex life. I have never looked at a redwood tree the same way in the 26 years since reading the story with you.
By the way, if any of you readers know of this story or fifth grade reader, please let me know. I’ve been searching for years to find the story.