“Do you have a blog, grandpa?” the boy asked, kicking his legs against the stool rungs in the nursing home.
“No, I don’t do much with computers,” the old man said. “We didn’t have them when I was growing up and I guess I just didn’t find the need afterwards.”
The boy considered this. “What was life like for you, growing up? What was it really like?”
“It’s hard to explain,” the man said after a moment. “You’re too young to understand and there’s a lot of it.”
“Then you can start a blog and write about it.”
The man smiled. He pointed at the boy’s open backpack. “What’s that?”
“My social studies book. I got homework. We’re studying biomes.”
“Let me see it.” The man flipped through it, then handed it back. “Come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you about my life.”
The next day, when the boy came to his grandfather’s room, the man handed him several pages covered with a firm, flowing script, made shaky at the ends by age.
“Can you read it to me?” the boy asked. “We don’t learn that kind of writing in school anymore.”
“This time,” the man said, looking more put out than he really felt. “Get your mom to type it out for you. Okay, here we go: The Biomes of My Life.
“I was born in the jungle, emerging from my cocoon into a world bursting with life. At first, I was amazed at the bright colors and variety around me but unaware of the dangers that stalked through the shadows. There were jaguars and tigers in the trees that watched as I climbed and swung through the trees. One day, an old tiger caught me and mauled me badly and that ended my career climbing trees. I stayed, stifled, on the floor of the jungle, and it felt like the trees were pressing down on me. I longed for fresh air.
“When I was a teenager, I finally found the savannah and reveled in the open space and air. I ran and jumped and played, unrestrained by anything. I saw the groups that moved around: the zebras and antelope, the lions and hyenas and remembering the old tiger, I allied myself with the hyenas. I was not going to be a victim. I was the killer now, preying on the flighty animals that ran in front of me. It was a glorious existence while it lasted, but the lions reminded us who were bigger and in the end, I took more harm than if I had run with the zebras.
“My early twenties were a desert. I had run from the lions and leaving the savannah, I wandered for long periods of time in areas devoid of life with just the rocks and sand as companions. The sky was large and although life seemed wide open, it was empty in every direction I tried. The scorching sun and wind burned me, crushing my young will. I could have died in that barren place if I had not found a tiny trickle of water that led to a river, which led to the ocean.
“It was in my late twenties that I embarked on the great ocean. It was as wide open as the desert but finally I was going places and life was all around me again. The crests and troughs followed in quick succession but I rode every one and although I was never satisfied, I went further and faster than I ever had.
“It was during this time, in my early thirties that I found my tropical island. The air there was heavy with the scent of flowers and luscious fruit was everywhere. It was the first time in my life that I was truly happy and I could lie on the beach for hours, just drinking it all in.
“But after a while, the lure of the fast-paced ocean life lured me back. I went back to the island when I could, but the visits became less frequent as I traveled further and further on the wild waves. Finally, I came back to find that half the island had burned. That was a shock. I gave up the ocean and spend the next several decades restoring the island back to life. It was never what it had been, but it became my home.”
The old man stopped reading. “What do you think?”
“I don’t understand,” the boy said. “You were born in a jungle?”
“It’s a riddle,” his grandfather said. “You will need a key to unlock it.”
“Experience. Then you will understand my story. But for now, let me tell you the lessons I have learned. Watch out for tigers and hyenas. Run from them. They are not your friends. Avoid the deserts but if you find yourself in one, never give up. There is more out there. And finally, if you find your tropical island, take care of it. It is more precious than you think.”
“Okay, I’ll try to understand it later.” the boy said. He looked uncertain and the grandfather gave him a hug.
“I hope so. Then you can tell your story to your son and grandson. You can even blog about it if you want.”