On May 10, 1999, the world lost a gifted author, playwright, songwriter, and human being. Shel Silverstein published The Giving Tree more than 50 years ago, but the story seems even more relevant and poignant in today’s struggles with technology-induced isolation and ongoing climate change. How is that possible? How does an unforgettably tender story written in the early 1960s become so much more powerful half a century later? I don’t have the answers. I just sit here in awe.
I was first introduced to Silverstein’s work in Where the Sidewalk Ends. When I was in fifth grade, I tried to write stories and poetry, but my writing focused more on telling than anything else (in my defense, I was only 10 years old at the time). My sentences were always grammatically correct and logically flowed to the end, so I couldn’t understand why my teacher was pushing me to delve deeper, experiment, get “messy” with my writing. She shared Where the Sidewalk Ends with me and suddenly everything clicked for me.
Creative writing wasn’t necessarily about detailing an event from start to finish, providing comprehensive and factual information. Writing had magic elements: It evoked an emotional response in the reader. The rhythm of the words and sentences were just as important as their flow. And writing often didn’t come delivered in nice packages tied with a neat little bow. It could be messy, chaotic, shifting and swerving in unexpected ways.
Fifteen years after I fell in love with Where the Sidewalk Ends, I shared it with my students in Central Asia, where I was teaching as a Peace Corps volunteer. The poems helped them master the rhythm of speaking English while keeping them entertained during classes (we spent an entire class giggling over how to eat a hippopotamus sandwich).
I wanted to use Silverstein’s playfulness to inspire my response to today’s Carrot Ranch prompt, but alas, sometimes things don’t go as we plan. The prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include insects in a story.
When the Sidewalk Ended
The calloused skin of my bare soles was no match for the sidewalk’s permeating heat. I jumped from side to side along the concrete stretching through the sandy loess.
And then the sidewalk ended.
I sunk my feet into gritty sand, sighing into the shaded coolness. But as my soles welcomed the relief, the heat latched onto my ankles, its fire crawling along my skin and spiraling up my calves.
Shrieking, I windmilled my arms, brushing at the fire ants swarming my legs. I raced back to the burning concrete’s safety, resigned to follow the well-traveled road.