Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment (2 page)

BOOK: Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
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“He needs some work on his table manners,” I said, thinking of Dad, who is a stickler about chewing with your mouth closed and not talking while you eat, something I sometimes find hard to do.

Grandpa Ed chuckled. “Maybe so, but I don't see it happening. Now, if you put a
lizard in there …”

“Nah. Einstein's going to be a bachelor. He'll be happier that way.”

“You don't think he'll get lonely while you're off at school all day?”

“I researched it. Green anoles are more or less solitary in the wild. Plus, I was lucky even to get
anole. Mom had to work pretty hard to convince Dad.” Einstein had been cheap, but all his gear—not so much. There was the tank, of course, and then three different kinds of lamps, thermometers (for both the cool and warm sides of the tank), a hygrometer, fake plants, a couple of real plants, substrate to line the bottom (which has to be changed regularly)—even a trip to the reptile vet. The guy at the pet store recommended it since Einstein had
been captured in the wild, just to make sure he was free of parasites and all that.

Dad had complained when we'd gotten the vet's bill in the mail. “You've got to be kidding me!” Then he practically made me swear on Grampa Clem's grave that I wouldn't kill Einstein through neglect. “Ignorance is also no excuse. You're smart. After all this money, you'd better figure
how to keep this animal alive.”

The only thing we hadn't bought was the big rock I'd found at the park and put in Einstein's tank for a basking spot, which was where he was lying now, after having polished off a second cricket.

I opened the container of mealworms and plucked one out. It wriggled in my fingers. I dropped it near the rock. “Here you go, Einstein. Dessert on Grandpa Ed. See you tomorrow.”

He lifted his long, thin snout in the air as if sniffing the new presence in his tank. His white-spotted pink throat fan shot out from his bright lime-colored body, warning other anoles to stay away. This was his territory, his grub. Of course, he didn't have to worry. There was no one there but him. He would learn soon enough. I just hoped he would be happy in his new home. And that I wouldn't accidentally kill him.

I recorded the crickets and the mealworm in my notebook, misted the tank with purified water from the spray bottle Mom had given me, then put away the feeding stuff and grabbed my backpack. On my way out
the door, I reached up to the shelf above Einstein's tank, where I kept the rock and mineral collection I'd started this summer. I touched the glass-lidded wood box Grandpa Ed had made me for my birthday. Inside sat the chunk of Ellensburg Blue agate that we'd found on our last expedition—a secret outing that had almost gotten Grandpa Ed killed.

Bring me luck
, I thought. I wanted to come home with something big. Something impressive. Something that might even make Dad regret skipping the trip.

After I'd reminded Mom about all the things she needed to do for Einstein while I was gone (“Turn on the nocturnal heat lamp at night, check and record tank temps, mist the leaves, and put in a piece of apple to keep any leftovers alive—anoles only eat live prey”), finally,
, we were going!

I'd been counting down since my birthday, and now, after twelve days, eight hours, and twenty-eight minutes, there we were, sitting in the cab of Grandpa Ed's truck with our camping gear and rock-hounding tools in back, waving goodbye to Mom.

Patches Junior ran circles in the bed of the truck. He jumped up with his paws on the cab's rear window, barked, and then lay down for the ride, safe under the camper shell.

“Have fun, Bren!” Mom called. She was still in her
robe and her hair was smooshed up on one side from sleeping on it, but that's a good thing about my mom—she doesn't spend hours making her hair and face look perfect, like some moms. She'd rather be outside playing ball, or watch me do Tae Kwon Do, or hear about my latest experiment. “And be careful!” she shouted as we drove off.

Mom didn't need to tell me to have fun—or to be careful, for that matter. On our last expedition, the secret one, not only had Grandpa Ed almost died, I'd smashed up his truck trying to find help. The hood's been fixed, but let's just say I won't be driving anything—not even one of those motorized chairs at Gladys's senior living community—until I'm legal.

This time, though, there were no secrets. Mom was happy I was going, which was a big turnaround from the previous month, when she had forbidden me even to
my grandpa, her dad. I had discovered him at a rock show the month before that, after not knowing him my whole life (he and Mom hadn't been speaking). But everyone had made up since then. Everything was good. The only thing that could have been better was if Dad had been with us, heading toward the mountains.

I'd called my bud Khal to see if he wanted to go instead.

“And risk getting eaten by a cougar or sweating to death—for a few rocks? No thanks, man.” He said he'd be thinking of me from the safety and comfort of his
air-conditioned bedroom while he dug virtual tunnels in Mario World.

been getting hotter in the Pacific Northwest over the past few years. I'd done some research on the whole global warming thing, and I was convinced from the data it was real.

As we zoomed along Highway 18 toward the Cascades and Snoqualmie Pass, I refocused on being with my grandpa, doing something we both liked to do—hunt for rocks. Sitting there next to Grandpa Ed, I thought about Grampa Clem again, which I still did kind of a lot. I supposed the hurt of him dying wasn't as deep as it had been a few months before. It helped that I'd found Grandpa Ed. Although he could never replace Grampa Clem, he was fun to be with, and he gave me that same safe feeling Grampa Clem had. That feeling that you're not just a twig getting blown around by the wind, but a branch that belongs to a big tree that stands tall and proud and has been standing tall and proud for a long, long time.

Grandpa Ed handed me a map. Not a normal street map with freeways and town names. This one showed rivers and trails and elevations marked with different colors. “A geological survey map,” he said. “We'll be right here.” He tapped a section of the grid with his finger. I scanned the map, trying to figure it out, but it was all new to me.

It didn't really matter. We would get there eventually,
and when we did, I was going to dig up some huge quartz crystals!

But first, I had to dig for some food. My stomach felt like a giant sinkhole—something I'd read about on the Internet recently. Sinkholes forms when underground water dissolves subterranean rock until the surface land has no support and collapses. During the Civil War, a sinkhole in Kentucky swallowed up three Confederate soldiers! I wasn't
hungry, but I could eat.

I plowed through the bag of snacks Mom had packed. “Want one?” I asked, holding up an energy bar.

Grandpa Ed glanced at the wrapper. “Those marketing yahoos sure know how to sucker people.”

I studied the packaging. “What do you mean?”

“Those things don't give you any more energy than a good old-fashioned donut, and they don't taste even a quarter as good. Tried one once. Tasted about as good as a dried cow patty.”

“Have you actually tasted a dried cow patty?”

“Don't need to. Remember, son …” Grandpa Ed's pointer finger tapped against my temple. “Imagination. It's more important than knowledge.” He'd first told me that Albert Einstein quote one of the times I'd snuck over to his house, before he and Mom made up.

Grandpa Ed opened the white paper bag between us and pulled out a gooey donut. “I'll stick with my
bars, thanks.”

I dropped the energy bar into the sack and picked
out a donut. What Mom didn't know wouldn't hurt me. “Speaking of dried cow patties and energy,” I said, biting into the sugary frosting, “I've been reading about biofuels and biogas.”

“Oh yeah? Why's that?”

“Just curious. You know, the whole global warming thing.”

I couldn't tell from his “Hmmm” whether he would agree with me that it was a real problem, or if he thought it was a whole lot of hoo-ha over nothing, as he would say.

“Did you know that in twenty-four hours a cow burps and farts enough methane to run your house's furnace for the same amount of time?”

Grandpa Ed's eyes got big. “That's some serious power. I suppose you could call it Holstein heat.”

I groaned.

“How 'bout Jersey juice?”

Another bad one. I shook my head.

“Bovine burn?”

I laughed. “They're getting worse.” I thought for a moment. “I know! Cow kilowatts!”

We both laughed at that.

“I have a lot of questions about the subject, of course.”

“Of course.”

I'd recorded my questions in my science notebook—
Brendan Buckley's Book of Big Questions About Life, the
Universe and Everything In It
—which I'd started keeping at the beginning of the summer and had tucked into my backpack for this trip.

“Questions are good. They're what keep us scientists searching, eh?” Grandpa Ed smiled at me with his blue eyes—sky-blue, like the water in one of those sinkholes.

I nodded. This summer I'd gained not only a grandpa but also someone in my own family who shared my interest in science. I sat back and licked the frosting from my fingers. This was going to be great.

Someone had beaten us to the campsite. A green Subaru Forester sat in the parking area. Over by some picnic tables, a man worked at pitching a rounded blue tent.

Our tires crunched on the gravel. Grandpa Ed pulled up and parked.

A girl's head popped up from behind the tent. She looked straight at me and smiled. It was that girl … the one from the rock club meeting I'd attended with Grandpa Ed earlier in the summer.

What was her name? My mind was blank.

P.J. clawed at the windows and whined. I grabbed my backpack and headed to the rear of the truck. The pine trees smelled good—much better than they did as pulp. Factories in Tacoma cook trees like these down to mush and pump out a smell like rotten eggs. People like to joke
about the “aroma of Tacoma.” I took another deep breath of clean, piney air.

The girl walked toward me. Galloped was more like it. “Hi, Brendan!”

Uh-oh. She remembered my name. I hoped my deodorant was ready for a challenge, because I could feel the sweat beads forming on my upper lip and under my arms. Dad had given me the deodorant this summer to help with the girls, he said. I hadn't had a chance to tell him that girls were about as far from my mind as Pluto is from the sun. He'd left too quickly.

Suddenly, the brown-haired girl was at my side, all excited and bouncy, like Silly Putty.

“Oh … uh … hi.” I kept my eyes on P.J. as I lowered the tailgate. He jumped out of the truck and trotted off to sniff the ground around Grandpa Ed, who was talking with the girl's dad. I remembered seeing him at the meeting, too.

“I was hoping you'd be here,” she said.

She was?
“You were?”

“Yes. I have something for you.”

“You do?” I hadn't thought about this girl one time since the meeting, but she'd obviously been thinking about me.

The girl ran to the Subaru and leaned through the back window.

I wracked my brain for her name, like I was digging
through my closet for one of Dad's tools after borrowing it for an experiment. I had a feeling that forgetting a girl's name was the kind of thing that could get a boy in serious trouble. I might not have been thinking about girls all that much, but that didn't mean I hadn't observed some things about them. Observing is what scientists do.

She returned with a chunk of kidney ore. She'd had a specimen just like it at the meeting. We'd talked about it … how hematite's streak is dark red, like blood, even though it's black on the outside.
Never judge a rock by its color
, she'd said.

BOOK: Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
9.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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