As a young boy I was fortunate to have a father who was home in the afternoon when I returned from school. A writer's schedule allows that flexibility. Many afternoons my dad and I would toss back the soil in the vegetable garden to capture a dozen worms, throw our fishing poles and waders into the car, and escape the suburban neighborhood in which we lived. We would head to a nearby river in the woods where our objective was quite simpleto catch trout and bring them back for dinner.
Dad introduced me to fishing and the wonders of nature at a very early age. I caught and cleaned my own trout before I discovered athletics. Fishing gave me the opportunity to explore the beauty and sanctity of the wildlife that existed not far from our home. The Sudbury River, a fresh water river that zigzagged for miles, became a shared escape for a father and a son. We would park the car, enter a secluded section of the river, and go deep into another world. We rarely saw other humans. Our encounters included biting insects, snakes that kept me on my toes, sunbathing turtles that plopped into the water in response to our disturbances, and most of all, the beautiful cold-running river with its pools of feeding trout.
Dad and I bonded during these expeditions. I had my fishing challenges as a young boy and leaned on him to guide me through a sport that required skill, finesse, patience, and intelligent decision-making. At the same time, Dad relied on me on more than one occasion. Once, when he entered a pool that was too deep and filled his waders with cold water, he was thankful that his young son was present to offer a hand. Like most teams, we worked together, but we also relished an on-going competition to see which one of us could land more fish. At the end of the day, we usually returned home with a combined catch that enabled us to offer my mother a fresh meal.
Last year, not long after the birth of my daughter, I received a surprise fax from my father. "Following is a story for you to read to Sara in a couple of years, and you can enrich her with a memory or two," Dad said in his cover note. The story, entitled "Michael and Sam," was a true account of a childhood experience I had had with a pet wood turtle. After reading the story, I was filled with memories of Sam, and of that time in my life. I recalled the feeling of responsibility I had gained while caring for my pet, feeding her and changing her water daily. I thought about how far I've come since then, from young pet owner to the father of a little girl.
Sam lived in a wooden crate under an apple tree in our back yard. I kept the turtle warm at night by connecting an electrician's lamp to a long extension cord that I would turn on before going to bed. Sam didn't need the light but the warmth of the lamp kept her both healthy and cozy. I would look out my bedroom window and see the box glowing in the darkness. Unlike many of my friends' pets, Sam couldn't sleep with me in our house. But I slept well knowing she was comfortable in her man-made habitat.
Sam hibernated for the winter. The first spring, before she emerged from her deep sleep, I thought I had lost my pet for good. I sat outside on the lawn with her for what seemed ages, staring at my turtle. Her limbs, head, and tail were enclosed in her shell, and she showed absolutely no sign of life. It took Sam a long time to wake up. I clearly remember the relief I felt when I finally saw her head emerge.
My family had many conversations about Sam's welfare, and the day came when we agreed that she would be happier in her natural habitat. So we returned my turtle to the banks of our favorite river. I loved Sam, and I would miss her, but at that young age I had learned it was wrong to force a wild animal to live in captivity. Thanks to the story "Michael and Sam," my daughter Sara will learn this lesson as well.
An editor at my father's Spanish publisher, Ediciones B, read "Michael and Sam" and suggested that it become the foundation for a book of stories about animals and nature. Dad responded to the idea and has written a collection of five stories. The other four stories are fictional, but my father has named the protagonists after my daughter and his other grandchildren.
Every evening, after my daughter's bath and before her bedtime, I place her on my lap and read to her from her large collection of books. One day soon she'll be old enough for "Michael and Sam." I look forward to giving her this special glimpse into her father's childhood, and I know she will cherish the fact that her Grandpa wrote this story for her.
My daughter is growing up in a trilingual household, and books are an integral part of her language acquisition as well as her enjoyment. But our reading ritual has also contributed to our bonding, much in the way that fishing enriched the relationship I had with my father. I get a warm feeling thinking that Sam y Otro Cuentos de Animales might provide a similar joy to other parents and children, and I am very proud of my father for making this contribution to children's literature.
Some day, my daughter will learn that her grandpa was a writer of other books besides these stories about her cousins and animals. But she'll have plenty of time to explore his novels, so for now, we'll focus on turtles, polecats, birds, foxes, and fireflies and have fun exploring the world of children, animals, and nature.