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The Wolf Boy of Forest Lawn

“Come on,” I said, the chalk poised above the board, my heart beating fast. “What would he eat? Call them out.”

“Plants?” Judy asked.

“Absolutely,” I said, writing it down.

“Nuts,” someone else called.

I added it to the list.

“Berries.”

“Fish.”

“Squirrels.”

“There’s deer in the park.”

“How’s he going to kill a deer?”

“He’s The Wolf Boy,” Cole said. “He can do anything.”

“There’s lots of birds there.”

“Ducks.”

“Geese.”

“Rabbits.”

“I saw a turtle there once.”

“He could set out buckets and drink rain water.”

“Where’s he going to get a bucket?”

“He could kill the deer with the bucket. Just sneak up on it and smack it in the head.”

“Moron.”

I turned to face them. “OK, settle down,” I said, and miraculously they quieted. I jerked my thumb over my shoulder. “That’s a pretty good list you came up with, and you came up with it fast. And guess what? That’s what we’re going to study during the expedition. We’re going to study the plants and animals of the park. We’ll identify and name them. Categorize them by their species and scientific names. The specific plants. The specific berries. The specific nuts. The types of birds that live there. What would The Wolf Boy eat? What plants would make him sick? Which flowers are edible?”

For the first time all period, Cole raised his hand, his eyes bright, his face flushed. “You mean the whole semester is going to be about The Wolf Boy?”

The bell rang like an alarm, signaling the end of class. “Yes,” I said, the words rushing from my mouth before I had a chance to stop them. “This whole semester is going to be about The Wolf Boy.”

I was sitting at my kitchen table that night, trying to learn the next day’s lesson plans, when the phone rang. Pat’s voice was low and angry on the other end of the receiver. “This semester is not about Jason,” she said, and I imagined her spitting the words through the adorable space between her teeth. “How could you say that?”

“I reached them, Pat! All of them, but especially Cole.”

“This is not what we talked about. This is not what we planned.”

“I know, but they got excited. They got excited about learning. They got excited about nuts. Wasn’t Cole excited?”

There was a pause on the line, and then Pat said, “It’s all he’s been talking about since he got home.”

“See? When’s the last time he’s been this eager to learn?”

“Never,” she said, her voice still low, but the anger now drained from it.

“I think I’m on to something with this Wolf Boy angle, Pat. I really do. I think it will work. Why don’t we meet for a beer and brainstorm about it?”

She hung up without saying goodbye.

The next several weeks were spent preparing for our excursion to the park and cemetery. In history, they learned about Fredrick Law Olmsted, the designer of Delaware Park, and his other work around the city as well as the lives of those buried in Forest Lawn—Chief Red Jacket, President Fillmore, Civil War General Daniel Bidwell, and the 19th-century industrialists who brought the city into its golden age. In art, the students learned sketching techniques and studied the artists–Charles Cary Rumsey, Grace Goodyear, Antonio Ugo—whose bronze sculptures are found in the cemetery. In health class they learned emergency first aid, survival techniques, and identifying poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

In my class, they learned about The Wolf Boy.

I broke my students into teams. One group researched the plants The Wolf Boy could eat and how to identify them. Another group reported on the poisonous ones he had to avoid. A third group cataloged the fauna and ranked them from the easiest to hardest to catch. Cole led the team studying the cemetery’s and park’s physical layout. He poured over maps like Eisenhower planning D-Day; he found aerial photographs; he studied Olmsted’s original design; he identified areas where The Wolf Boy most likely lived.

“Heavily wooded to avoid detection and close to a water supply,” he told us when he presented his findings to the class, pointing to the map he’d hung on the wall, replacing my Steinbeck poster. Since I had announced that the whole semester was going to be about The Wolf Boy, Cole had become my best student. He gave his presentation without reading from his notes and referenced the art work and monuments he had learned about in his other classes. He knew more about Delaware Park and Forest Lawn than anybody.

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