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The Good Oak

Martin Etchart

Publication Year: 2012

Thirteen-year-old Matt Echbar is angry at the world. His widowed father is too busy for him, and his grandfather is an embarrassment, an unschooled Basque shepherd whose language and customs are completely alien to Matt’s all-American lifestyle. Things get worse when the grandfather steals a flock of sheep and dragoons Matt into helping him drive them to a secret camp in the Arizona mountains. The ensuing adventure is one of the most compelling and delightful coming-of-age novels in recent fiction. As Matt and his aitatxi, accompanied by their two faithful sheepdogs, drive the flock across the burgeoning suburbs of Phoenix and into the remote mountains, the boy learns the ancient skills of the sheepherder and discovers the unexpected wisdom that has given his Old Country grandfather the strength and patience of a sturdy oak. By the time the journey reaches its fateful conclusion, Matt has developed a new bond with the old man and has learned that true manhood includes accepting one’s heritage.

Published by: University of Nevada Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

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One: Bagno

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pp. 1-12

Up until then, the fact that my dad's parents came from Urepel, France, on a boat from the Basque Country was something I didn't share with my friends. That and how we ate leg of lamb for dinner as often as most other families ate meat loaf, or that instead of having an uncle...

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Two: Bida

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pp. 13-18

When I reached the barn, the inside smelled of Oxeadusty wool and sour wine. I kept going. At the far end of the barn, I pushed open the door. The oak was waiting. The tree was as tall as the barn with a trunk as thick as my spread-out arms. Only the top of the tree...

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Three: Hiru

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pp. 19-24

I immediately hunched down low in my seat. I slipped the picture of my mother out of my pants pocket and into my desk. Then I closed my eyes. No way was he here. Please, God, I had to still be dreaming. Wake up. Just wake up. But when I opened my eyes, unlike...

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Four: Lau

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pp. 25-33

Grandpa's '59 lime-green pickup was in the faculty parking lot. The rusted vehicle sat amid the teachers' shiny cars. Piled in the back were two bales of hay, rolls of wire, and the wooden posts of an old corral. I groaned. The Beverly Hillbillies. All I needed was for the...

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Five: Borzt

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pp. 34-40

Aitatxi had found out that Dad sold the sheep to the Outwest Dude Ranch in Wickenburg, thirty miles north of Phoenix. I didn't know what a bunch of make-believe cowboys would want with sheep. They couldn't ride them, or at least not very far. I'd tried that...

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Six: Sei

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pp. 41-46

The cattle guard clanked beneath the tires of the pickup as we passed into the Outwest Dude Ranch. Aitatxi clicked off the headlights. In the moonlight I could make out a half dozen of the ranch's buildings up ahead. There were no lights on. Maybe the place was...

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Seven: Zazpi

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pp. 47-53

The day Dad turned forty, we walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong. I was in my bedroom working on a report for Ms. Helm's class about the Cuban missile crisis. My report was already three days late, and Ms. Helm told me that if I didn't turn it in first thing in the...

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Eight: Zortzi

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pp. 54-60

As we walked, I asked Aitatxi questions, like "You think maybe we should go back and tell them it was all a joke?" and "Do you know the prison time for stealing sheep?" and "How about if we get caught, I say I was kidnapped and you say aliens forced you to do it?" and...

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Nine: Bederatzi

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pp. 61-68

I woke with sand in my mouth and one of the dogs licking my face. I pushed him away as I sat up to see the other dog lying on my bedroll. I must have rolled off in my sleep-or more likely been pushed off by Atarrabi and Mikelats. One of them had Oxea' s beret hanging...

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Ten: Hamar

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pp. 69-73

Even though I suspected I was tricked into learning both shepherding and Basque by Aitatxi, I didn't mind. I liked the feeling of being in control for a change. And when I got the words Aitatxi told me right and the dogs did exactly what I wanted, he would say...

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Eleven: Hamaika

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pp. 74-83

The minute we stepped onto the golf course's grass, the sheep started grazing, and not even Atarrabi and Mikelats could get them moving again. And moving was what I wanted to do. If I was lucky, I could get Aitatxi and his sheep across the golf course without...

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Twelve: Hamabi

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pp. 84-90

By late afternoon, Aitatxi and I were still outlaws. I regularly searched the horizon for sunlight reflecting off approaching squad cars, but nothing broke up the wavy brown desert. As we walked, I realized the one flaw in my plan for being captured was...

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Thirteen: Hamahiru

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pp. 91-96

Great. I was left to get the sheep on my own. Not that finding Rollo was that big a deal. Not usually, anyway. Only here ... Why did Aitatxi have to bring up the Mamu? The day's light was almost gone. It could turn to night at any moment. And then where would...

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Fourteen: Hamalau

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pp. 97-103

After that, Aitatxi sent me to find some wood for a fire. Around the back of the building, I found a pile of wooden cutout elves. The elves were all in different poses of toy making. I also found a stack of old magazines. Most of them had Camaros and...

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Fifteen: Hamaborzt

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pp. 104-110

But I was ready for him. I slid to the side as I ducked and ran forward to pull the pen's top rope—this time on purpose. And just like in the wash, the sheep broke into a mini-stampede, jumping and kicking, their hooves on the cement sounding like a hundred...

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Sixteen: Hamasei

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pp. 111-118

In a cloud of bleating and dust, the flock struggled to make its way up the rocks. The sheep slipped and bounced against one another. And some of the smaller sheep, like Gaixua, were pushed aside by the bigger ones and tumbled backward. Aitatxi and I caught those...

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Seventeen: Hamazazpi

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pp. 119-124

Aitatxi held on to me as we walked in silence. I kept telling myself that every step was bringing me closer to Dad. He would be coming down the trail from the etxola; any moment he'd appear, angry and relieved. But where was he? Miles away or only steps? It was...

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Eighteen: Hamazortzi

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pp. 125-129

My relief at the falling rain didn't last long. The sprinkles hitting my face grew harder. Lightning cracked in the sky. Then it was like someone flicked a switch and the lights went out. The day became a starless night. Mikelats whined. And as I reached toward him...

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Nineteen: Hamaretzi

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pp. 130-135

The cave became warmer as the fire's flames reached higher. Light bounced off the walls, and in the light, I saw black marks on the rock of the cave's back wall. I was too busy penning the sheep and taking care of Aitatxi to notice them earlier. Now I went over to...

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Twenty: Hogei

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pp. 136-142

Right before I woke that morning, I dreamed of a place so green it hurt my eyes. Clouds covered the tops of mountains that seemed to be cut from emeralds. A river tumbled down between the mountains, the water becoming a hundred whispering voices as it flowed out...

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Twenty-One: Hogeibat

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pp. 143-150

The pines grew thicker and the other trees slipped away. Soon the trail was again clearly marked with rocks. I wondered if Dad had put them there? With Aitatxi telling his Ferdinand to "mark good" so that next time they could clearly see the way. But there...

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Twenty-Two: Hogeibi

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pp. 151-153

The sheep watched us from their pen as Dad showed me how to use my hand to bang the ball against the barn wall. My jaw throbbed with pain every time I hit the ball with my open hand, but I kept playing. When I missed a shot, Atarrabi and Mikelats ran and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780874178975
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874176025

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2012