“Close your eyes,” I told the kids. “Tell me what you hear and smell.”

Sarah: “I hear the puppy's teeth against the bone she is chewing.”

America: “I hear the wind.”

JudyLucy: “When I step, I can hear the crunch of pine needles under my feet.”

Sarah: “I hear a cow mooing in the distance.”

David: “The phone's ringing.” (laughter… everyone ignoring the phone.)

JudyLucy: “I hear the swing creaking… Delaney sucking her fist.”

Seric: “I smell the dog. And the tree.”

David: “I smell dirt. It smells wet. And good.”

JudyLucy (holding Delaney): “I smell a dirty diaper.” (more laughter.)

“Open your eyes,” I said. “Now tell me what you see.”

David: “The hogan.”

JudyLucy: “The sun is behind the clouds.”

Sarah: “The puppy left her bone and is biting mama dog and trying to make her play.”

JudyLucy: “Delaney is eating dirt.”

Seric: “I see a tiny bug in the dirt. Why is he still alive? Isn't it too cold for him to live?”

David: “He lives in the dirt and came out because it's warm. Look at the holes in the dirt. I bet he came out of one of them.”

Seric: “Oh yeah.”

America: “I see a crow.”

David: “I see the cows coming back.”

Sarah: “I see Seric's underwear.” (laughter… Seric shouting in glee and pulling up his sagging jeans.)

Mom: “Good. David, how many pine needles are on one little branch?”

David: “Like one of the tiniest branches?” (Counting quickly… )

Sarah: “I bet there's 30 or 40!”

Seric: “No—eighty-eight!”

David: “There's about 200.”

Mom: “Wow, that's a lot. So how many of those little branches are on one bigger branch?”

David: “Uh… about 20.”

Mom: “So how many needles are on one bigger branch?”

David: “Uh… is that 20 times 200?”

Mom: “Yes. You can multiply 2 times 20 and then add the two extra zeros after you get the answer.”

David: “4,000? No. It can't be. 400?”

Mom: “4,000 is right. Can you believe there are around 4000 needles on one branch? That's amazing. How many branches do you think there are on the tree?”

The kids all stood looking straight up at the twisted old piñon pine that had been the harbinger of so many lessons.

David: “There's gotta be more than a thousand branches because each of those middle-size branches is on another bigger branch. How many is 1,000 times 4,000?”

Mom: “Uh… I think it's 4 million… yeah, 4,000,000.

JudyLucy: “Four million! Wow. On just one tree. I wonder how many needles are on all the trees on the property?”

Everyone paused in awed silence for a brief moment.

Seric: “I know, I know! Eighty-eight.”