Sal picked up the acorn from the leaves. The boy watched. Sal stared at the little nut for a moment like a bug under a microscope.
“That an acorn?” the boy asked.
“What tree is it from?”
Sal said, “Oak.”
The boy and the man walked slowly through the edge of the yard, shuffling their boots amongst the scattering Autumn leaves. Every now and then, the boy would spot a tiny branch sticking up out of the brightly colored detritus and pick it up, snapping off little pieces and redistributing them back to the forest floor.
“Can we plant it?” the boy asked.
Sal was silent for a moment, as if it took a massive amount of mental calculations to figure out whether you could cover this particular seed with dirt.
“You know,” Sal finally answered, “All the information needed to turn this small nut into a huge tree and keep it alive and flourishing for the next one hundred years is right here inside this small little shell.”
The child was about to repeat his question when he thought better of it. When adults got like this, it was better to let them ramble on until they were done.
Sal said, “I wonder if it has any notions, as it’s growing, that it has any say in what kind of tree it’s going to become?”
Sal trailed off for another unquantifiable moment.
The boy watched Sal turn the acorn over and over with his leathery, crinkled hands.
“If we don’t plant it,” the boy said matter-of-factly, “we’ll never know.”
He didn’t think this answered Sal’s question, but then again Sal hadn’t answered his question either and the boy had an agenda, after all. If they planted it now, by the time he was his brother’s age, and allowed to climb trees like his brother, he should have a huge tree to climb back in his own yard. In the boy’s subdivision, the developers had killed all but a few trees before they built their houses. The boy figured the trees got in the way somehow. It was the boy’s turn to ponder things now.
“So even though it’s not doing anything right now, it’s alive in there?”
“But you have to put it in the dirt and water to grow it . . . or it just . . .”
The boy wasn’t sure. How long could whatever was in there live if you didn’t plant it?
Sal said, “It dies. You can’t tell from the outside, not right away, but it just dries up on the inside.”
Then he suddenly handed the seed to the boy as if he’d wanted nothing to do with it in the first place.