Authors: Andrew Clements
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For my son,
Nathaniel James Clements
Mr. Maxwell looked at the long checklist, and then looked at the calendar, and then he shook his head. It was February thirteenth, and he was sitting at his desk in his classroom at quarter of seven on a Friday morning. And a question formed in his mind:
Why on earth do I do this year after year?
He quickly pushed that thought out of his head and turned back to the checklist.
It had become a tradition at Hardy Elementary School: Bright and early on the Monday morning of the third week in April, the whole fifth grade piled into three buses and went off for a week in the woods.
And that's what the program was called: A Week in the Woods. It was nature studies and it was environmental science and it was campfires and creative writing and storytelling and woodcraft. It was always the
last big event for the fifth-graders before they went on to the middle school. It was always fun, always memorable. And the person who always made it happen was Mr. Maxwell, the fifth-grade science teacher.
The kids looked forward to A Week in the Woods. They all loved it. The fifth grade-teachers also looked forward to A Week in the Woods. But not all of them loved it. Not even most of them.
In fact, there was a rumor that if Mr. Maxwell ever moved or retired, the program might change. It might become A Day in the Woods. And at this year's early planning meeting, Mrs. Leghorn had been heard muttering, “This is Whitson, New Hampshire, for Pete's sake!
week is a week in the woods!”
Mrs. Leghorn was the fifth-grade math teacher, and if she got her way, the program would become An Hour in the WoodsâWithout Me!
But Mr. Maxwell had originated the program, and this would be his sixteenth year as its director. As always, he wanted the fifth-graders to have an outdoors experience that they would remember all their lives. So once again, it was going to be A Week in the Woods.
* * *
Bill Maxwell was a big man. He cut and split his own firewood, and he had the shoulders and arms to prove it. He always wore dress pants and a white shirt and tie to school, and that helped make him look less
rugged and a little less imposing. But it was fair to say that Mr. Maxwell had never had a discipline problem in any of his classes. Ever.
At forty-five years old, his thick brown hair was starting to turn gray, but apart from that, he looked like a man ten years younger. He wasn't handsome, but he had a pleasant face, open and honest, with clear blue eyes and a strong jawline.
He had grown up in northern New Hampshire and had majored in environmental studies at the state university. Then at the end of his junior year he took part in an Earth Day event at a grade school. That's when Bill Maxwell discovered that he loved to teach almost as much as he loved the outdoors. He shifted his major to education, and one month after graduation he landed a job in Whitson as a fifth-grade science teacher.
Bill and his college sweetheart had planned to get married, but after she graduated she took a job as an accountant for a big paper company. The marriage never happened. Young Bill Maxwell could not understand how anyone could work for an industry that did such bad things to the environment.
During his next three years of teaching Mr. Maxwell lived in a boardinghouse in the nearby town of Atlinboro. During the summers he painted houses, and he saved every penny. Then he bought forty-five acres of wooded land about fifty miles north of Whitson and built himself a log house. He installed
solar panels on the roof, and built a small generator system that made electricity from the stream that tumbled across his property. Before his first winter set in, he figured out how to make a catalytic converter that would reduce the pollution in the smoke from his woodstove.
Mr. Maxwell's younger sister didn't like the idea of his living all alone out in the woods. She worked for the New Hampshire Humane Society, so over the years she had made sure that her big brother always had at least one dog to share his home with.
Mr. Maxwell's mother had more specific ideas. She wanted him to get married and have some children. But whenever she told him that, Mr. Maxwell would smile and say, “Mom, remember? I've
childrenâabout a hundred and fifty of 'em every year!”
And five mornings a week, nine months a year, Bill Maxwell drove the quiet country roads from his home to Hardy Elementary School so he could spend the day with his children. The drive in his old blue pickup truck took him an hour in each direction, and more in bad weather, but Mr. Maxwell wouldn't have had it any other way.
* * *
Sitting at his desk on the morning of February thirteenth, the program was still eight weeks away. Growing up, Bill Maxwell had been a Boy Scout, then an Explorer Scout, and finally, an Eagle Scout. He took
his Scout motto seriously: Be Prepared. That's why Mr. Maxwell's preparations for A Week in the Woods had started back before Thanksgiving.
He had already signed up eighteen parent volunteers to help with the baggage handling, the cooking, and the chaperoning. He'd driven over to the campground at Gray's Notch State Park on a Saturday, and then tramped around in the snow to check out the newest cabins and do a careful bunk count. He'd signed a contract with a Native American man, a Penobscot storyteller who was going to give an evening performance that would include some history about the Abenaki and Pennacook tribes. He had even worked out the menu for each of the thirteen meals and the four evening snacks at the park, and had already placed the order for the food deliveries. Plus he'd taken care of about a dozen other details, not to mention writing and revising and assembling the big information packet. He'd had to have the packet ready to hand out to each fifth-grader the day after Christmas vacation, because that had become a tradition too.
True, a lot of the preparations had been completed by February thirteenth, but the checklist went on and on. So Mr. Maxwell scooted his chair up closer to his desk and got to work.
Before the morning buses arrived, he'd written a letter to the New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife
Service, replied to an e-mail from the State Park Ranger Service, and laid out the schedule of events for day three of A Week in the Woods.
As his homeroom kids began streaming through the doorway, Mr. Maxwell made three more neat little marks on his checklist, and then put it away in his file drawer until after school. It had been a productive morning.
* * *
That same Friday morning, some other preparations were just ending. About two hundred and seventy miles south and west of Whitson, New Hampshire, something was happening.
It was something that was going to have an impact on this year's Week in the Woods, but it wasn't on Mr. Maxwell's long checklist. There was no way for him to be prepared, not for this. Mr. Maxwell had no idea what kind of trouble was coming his way.
But it was. Trouble was definitely headed north.
Mark Robert Chelmsley watched from a third-floor window as Leon and Anya packed the last few boxes into the trunk of the long black car.
This is so stupid,
It's not like we're really moving. We're justÂ .Â .Â . leaving.
Which was true.
The large brick house in Scarsdale, New York, hadn't been sold. Everything was staying just as it wasâall the furnishings, all the electronics and appliances, even the china and the silverwareâall staying put. Mark's parents had decided it would be good to have a place so close to New York City, so they were going to keep the house.
And the new house? Simple. The new house was already remodeled and redecorated and completely furnishedâeverything brand, spanking new. Except for the antiques.
“This move? There'll be nothing to it!” That's what Mark's mom had said.
And his dad had nodded and said, “Piece of cake!”
Easy for them to say,
They're not even here.
Which was also true.
Mark's parents, Robert and Eloise Chelmsley, were running a stockholders meeting in San Francisco.
“Friday, February thirteenth,” his dad had said with a shrug. “We promised we'd be there, and there's nothing we can do about it, Mark.”