Peter was in a hurry. He wanted to find out as much as he could before the Big Year was over, and he didn't know where to begin. He rushed along so fast he hardly noticed that a twig from his old friend Maple had caught in his shirt and held him back.
"Oh," he gasped. "Let me go."
"Where are you going so fast?" asked Maple, but Peter was already far away.
He stumbled over a root of the big oak and fell flat on his face.
"What's your hurry?" grumbled Oak. "You might stop and say how-do-you-do to your friends."
"Where are you rushing to, anyway?" rustled Birch.
Peter, who was just ready to run on, stopped short.
"I - I don't know," he stammered.
"If you took time out to look where you're going you might not miss so much," grouched Oak. "And it would save wear and tear on your knees, too," he added, looking at Peter's legs.
"Oh, dear!" said Peter. "They're bleeding."
"Here!" said a new voice, and Peter saw a broad flat leaf on the ground. "My name's Dock. Put me on your knee and it'll stop bleeding."
"Thank you!" said Peter as he wrapped the dock-leaf around his sore knee.
"Say," he said, looking at Maple, "you ARE pretty. And you too," he added to Birch. Birch shook her golden leaves gaily and said: "Nice, aren't they? They won't last long though."
"Oh, that's too bad," said Peter.
"It doesn't matter," said Birch, "I'll grow new ones in spring. I like green better anyway."
"You vain little thing," mumbled Oak. "In a way, I'd rather like to be an evergreen."
"What's the difference?" asked Peter.
"You know those firs and pines," said Oak, "they have needles for leaves, and they're green all the time."
"I heard a juniper say he was tired of it, though," said Peter. "You're probably better off as you are."
"Peter's right," said Maple, rustling her crimson dress. "I wouldn't want to change my brilliant colors for little green needles, even if they do last. Besides, they don't. They're changing all the time. That's why the tree always looks green."
"Why, that's what I do," said Peter. "I always look like me, but I know I'm not, because I'm changing so fast I'm never the same twice."
"I guess we all do," said Oak. He yawned loudly. "Ho,
hum! It's going to feel good to go to sleep." Suddenly he shouted loudly:
"Hi, there! Going back?"
Peter looked up and saw a flock of wild geese flying overhead. They flew in two lines like a big V.
The leading goose answered without breaking the beautiful formation:
"Hullo there, Oak. Still awake?"
"Just going to turn in," answered Oak. "Would you mind giving me a shout to wake me up when you come back?"
"Sure, don't we always?" said Goose. "We'll be back with the sunshine. Goodby now."
"Goodby, goodby!" came the echo, as all the geese made their farewells, still keeping perfectly in line, and disappeared quickly to the south.
"Well, I don't know about you fellows," said Birch, "but I'm getting very sleepy. Most of my sap has gone back down to my roots already and they're starting to grow, so I think I'll say good-night. You'll excuse me if I go to sleep?" she asked Peter.
"Of course," said Peter. "Goodnight."
The oak was already asleep, so Peter quietly walked away. He felt rather lonely, and he wished Uncle Peppercorn would come and talk to him, but Uncle Peppercorn didn't show up. By this time Peter knew that the little man only came to answer questions, so he tried to think of a really difficult question to make him come, but he couldn't think of one. Then he began looking around to see what he could find out for himself. Suddenly he thought of something. The geese! What were they doing, going south?
"Uncle Peppercorn!" he called. "Oh, Uncle Peppercorn!"
"Don't make such a deafening noise!" said Uncle Peppercorn. "I can't hear myself think. What do you want to know?"
Uncle Peppercorn was perched on Peter's shoulder, with his fingers in his ears.
"The geese, Uncle Peppercorn. How do they know where they're going?"
"That's a good question," said Uncle Peppercorn. "How does your blood know where it's going in you?"
"In me?" Peter was surprised. "What's that got to do with . . . "
"Answer my question!" said Uncle Peppercorn sternly.
"Well, there are veins and things."
"Exactly! just as there are veins and arteries in you, there are veins and arteries in the earth and the air too. The geese just follow those streams of life. Easy when you know how."
"Oh!" Peter thought for a moment. "You mean they go and come back along a road you can't see?"
"Oh!" cried Peter. "Isn't that what the earth is doing when it goes round the sun?"
"Got it the first time!" Uncle Peppercorn looked pleased and he beamed at Peter.
"Peter, my boy, you're doing ALL RIGHT!"
Then he vanished, leaving Peter with a warm feeling in his heart.
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