|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
THE OLD PEAR TREE
NCLE PAUL had just cut down a pear-tree in the garden. The
tree was old, its trunk ravaged by worms, and for several
years it had not borne any fruit. It was to be replaced by
another. The children found their Uncle Paul seated on the
trunk of the pear-tree. He was looking attentively at
something. "One, two, three, four, five," said he, tapping
with his finger upon the cross-section of the felled tree.
What was he counting?
"Come quick," he called, "come; the pear-tree is waiting to
tell you its story. It seems to have some curious things to
The children burst out laughing.
"And what does the old pear-tree wish to tell us?" asked
"Look here, at the cut which I was careful to make very
clean with the ax. Don't you see some rings in the wood,
rings which begin around the marrow and keep getting larger
and larger until they reach the bark?"
"I see them," Jules replied; "they are rings fitted one
"It looks a little like the circles that come just after
throwing a stone into the water," remarked Claire.
 "I see them too by looking closely," chimed in Emile.
"I must tell you," continued Uncle Paul, "that those circles
are called annual layers. Why annual, if you please? Because
one is formed every year; one only, understand, neither more
nor less. The learned who spend their lives studying plants,
and who are called botanists, tell us that no doubt is
possible on that point. From the moment the little tree
springs from the seed to the time when the old tree dies,
every year there is formed a ring, a layer of wood. This
understood, let us count the layers of our pear-tree."
Uncle Paul took a pin to guide his counting; Emile, Jules,
and Claire looked on attentively. One, two, three, four,
five—They counted thus up to forty-five, from the marrow to
"The trunk has forty-five layers of wood," announced Uncle
Paul. "Who can tell me what that signifies? How old is the
"That is not very hard," answered Jules, "after what you
have just told us. As it makes one ring every year, and we
have counted forty-five, the pear-tree must be forty-five
"Eh! Eh! what did I tell you?" cried Uncle Paul, in triumph.
"Has not the pear-tree talked? It has begun its history by
telling us its age. Truly, the tree is forty-five years
"What a singular thing!" Jules exclaimed. "You can know the
age of a tree as if you saw its birth. You count the layers
of wood; so many layers, so many years. One must be with
you, Uncle, to learn
 those things. And the other trees, oak,
beech, chestnut, do they do the same?"
"Absolutely the same. In our country every tree counts one
year for each layer. Count its layers and you have its age."
"Oh! how sorry I am I did not know that the other day," put
in Emile, "when they cut down the big beech which was in the
way on the edge of the road. Oh, my! What a fine tree! It
covered a whole field with its branches. It must have been
"Not very," said Uncle Paul. "I counted its layers; it had
one hundred and seventy."
"One hundred and seventy, Uncle Paul! Honest and truly?"
"Honest and truly, my little friend, one hundred and
"Then the beech was a hundred and seventy years old," said
Jules. "Is it possible? A tree to grow so old! And no doubt
it would have lived many years longer if the road-mender had
not had it cut down to widen the road."
"For us, a hundred and seventy years would certainly be a
great age," assented his uncle; "no one lives so long. For a
tree it is very little. Let us sit down in the shade. I have
more to tell you about the age of trees."
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