By Linda Porter Carlyle
MacKenzie Isabelle Evans bounced on the seat of the school van. “This is so great!” she exclaimed. “I can hardly believe Miss Binney is taking us hiking! I love hiking! Can you believe we’re actually going hiking instead of sitting in school?”
Marissa, on the seat next to Mac, grinned. “I know!” she said. “I wish we could go hiking every day!”
Cody reached over the back of the seat and yanked one of Mac’s wiry red curls.
“Ouch!” Mac hollered, grabbing her head and whirling around. “Stop it!”
“You won’t think it’s so great going hiking when we have to write a report about it when we get back!” Cody grumbled.
“We don’t have to write a report,” Mac retorted. “Miss Binney didn’t say anything about writing a report!”
“Yeah. Just wait and see,” Cody muttered, sinking down in the seat. “If we don’t have to write a report, we’ll have to write a poem. Or a song. Miss Binney is never happy unless we’re writing something.”
Mac laughed. It was true. Miss Binney loved words. And that was one of the reasons Mac loved Miss Binney. Mac loved words too. She liked the way her favorite words rolled around on her tongue. She even liked the way words looked on paper. “Maybe I’ll write a poem even if Miss Binney doesn’t ask us to,” she said happily. She looked out the window at the bright fall sunshine. “It’s a poem kind of day.”
Mac was quiet for a minute, thinking. “Hey! Listen to this!” she exclaimed. “A hike. A hike. Without my mountain bike. We’ll walk. We’ll walk. We’ll walk, and talk, and talk!”
“How do you do that?” Marissa asked enviously. “I have such a hard time making up poems!”
Mac shrugged. “I don’t know,” she confessed. “It’s just the way my head works.”
“Hey! We’re here!” Cody shouted as the van pulled into the parking lot next to the Beekman House.
The other minivans and cars driven by room mothers parked too. Children piled out of all of them.
“Over here!” Miss Binney called waving her arms in the air. “Everybody, come over here!”
Obediently, everyone gathered around. Miss Binney was surrounded.
“I want you to be sure to stay on the trail!” Miss Binney reminded the students. “I don’t want to lose any of you. Even you, Cody!” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “And I don’t want any of you to get poison oak either,” she added. “The trail is cleared. But if you get off the trail, you’re pretty certain to run into poison oak.”
The class streamed behind Miss Binney across the parking lot to the trailhead.
“Look at that!” Marissa said, pulling Mac’s arm and pointing to a hole at the base of a big tree. “Do you think some animal lives in there?”
Mac stopped and gazed at the hole. “Maybe it’s a skunk’s hole,” she breathed. “Maybe there’s a skunk in there right now peeking out at us!”
Marissa looked horrified. “Come on!” she urged. “I don’t want to meet a skunk in the woods!”
“I think it would be an adventure!” Mac said airily, but she slowly followed Marissa up the trail instead of checking out what was in the hole like she really wanted to do.
The class strung out along the trail, Miss Binney in the lead. Room mothers were here and there among the kids.
“Look!” Mac whispered to Marissa. “There’s a hole in the ground! It could be a snake hole!”
Marissa shivered. “Yuck!” she said. “I hate snakes!”
“I’m going to poke a stick into the hole,” Mac said, “and plug it up. Then if there’s a snake in it, it won’t be able to get out.” She spotted what she was looking for—a small branch that had fallen off a tree. She ran through some bushes to get it.
“MacKenzie Isabelle Evans!” Miss Binney’s voice stopped Mac in her tracks.
Miss Binney strode back down the trail, past the students who were now standing still to see what was going on. Miss Binney pointed a finger at Mac. She did not look one bit happy. “Didn’t I tell you to stay on the trail?” she asked sternly, her forehead furrowed with a frown. Do you realize you just ran through a whole clump of poison oak? Practically a whole garden of poison oak!”
Mac’s face grew almost as red as her curls. She looked at Miss Binney. She looked at the bushes she had just run through. She looked down at her clothes. She looked up at Miss Binney again.
“Come here,” Miss Binney instructed. “And walk around the poison oak!”
Mac came, her head hanging. She stopped in front of her teacher.
“Mac, are you allergic to poison oak?” Miss Binney asked.
Mac shook her head. “I don’t know,” she answered. “I never had it.”
“Tell me why your mother did not come with us on the hike today,” Miss Binney said, although she already knew why.
“Because she gets poison oak really bad, and she was afraid she’d catch it,” Mac whispered.
Miss Binney took a deep breath. She pulled a cell phone out of her pocket. “I’m going to call your mother,” she said, “and let her know you are coming home right now. One of the room mothers can drive you. And when you get home, I want you to take off all your clothes and put them right in the washing machine. I don’t want your mother even to have to touch them. And then you take a cool shower with lots and lots of soap. I do not want your mother to get poison oak because of your disobedience.”
Tears flooded Mac’s eyes. She could not look at Miss Binney. “I’m sorry!” she gasped. The tears spilled out and dropped on the ground in front of her. Mac wished there were a hole right there big enough for her to crawl into and disappear. A hole with a shower in it so she could wash off and not have to miss the hike.
“I’m sorry too,” Miss Binney said kindly.