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Sal tells her grandparents about Mr. Birkway, her English teacher. Mr. Birkway is a passionate and energetic teacher who, on the first day of class, collects the journals his students wrote over the summer. Sal, a new student, did not write in a journal, and feels relieved as she watches her classmates warily hand their journals over to their teacher. The journals, Sal tells her grandparents, later cause a great deal of trouble.
That weekend, Phoebe and Sal watch from Phoebe's upstairs window as Mrs. Cadaver works vigorously in her backyard garden. Suddenly, much to the girls' surprise, Mr. Birkway drives up and begins helping Mrs. Cadaver dig up and transplant a rhododendron bush. Phoebe feels certain a dead body is buried underneath the uprooted bush. Sal goes along with Phoebe's slander of Mrs. Cadaver, thinking with resentment of how happy her father seems when he is with Mrs. Cadaver. Phoebe's mother, who again appears to be crying, arrives at home. Sal suggests they help Mrs. Winterbottom unload the groceries, but Phoebe insists that her mother likes to do the work herself. Sal wonders how Phoebe can remain blind to the fact that Mrs. Winterbottom is unhappy. Later, she observes Mrs. Winterbottom ask her other daughter, Prudence if she "leads a tiny life." Prudence essentially ignores her, asking Mrs. Winterbottom to hem a skirt for her, which she does readily. Sal wonders about Mrs. Winterbottom and her family. When Sal gets home, her father presents her with a gift from Mrs. Cadaver, which Sal stubbornly refuses. She fleetingly notices that she is acting just like Phoebe.
Sal and her grandparents reach South Dakota. They promptly take a swim in the Missouri River to cool off. Sal watches her hair float around her in the water and remembers how her mother cut off her own long, black hair shortly before she left. Sal had kept the hair in a plastic bag under the floorboards of her room. Suddenly, a boy appears, wielding a knife. He informs them they are on private property and begins rifling through Gramps's clothes, looking for his wallet. He stops, however, when a water moccasin bites Gram. Quickly, the boy makes cuts in her leg over the bite and begins to suck the poison out of her leg. They drive to the hospital, where Gram spends the night. Sal, half afraid Gram will not live through the night, sleeps out in the waiting room.
Gram awakens in good health and ready to leave. As they walk out to the car, Sal hears a bird in a tree that reminds her of Kentucky. She pauses to recall a tree in their backyard she had dubbed "the singing tree" because it housed a bird with a beautiful song and appeared to sing by itself. Sal remembers keeping sad vigil over the tree on the day she and her father found out her mother was not coming back from Idaho. The tree did not sing at all on that dark day. As Sal and her grandparents resume their travels, Sal no longer feels the need to rush: suddenly, she wants to slow down.
"Stories" or "tales" serve several functions in Walk Two Moons. First of all, they symbolize the past's immediacy, or the ways in which we continually relive the past and try to reconcile ourselves with it. Sal's repeated memories of her mother give an example of this struggle. Sal combs over the events leading up to and following her mother's departure, trying to understand why things happened as they did and what these events mean to her life. Stories also provide their tellers with a means of comparing themselves to others. For example, Sal, in observing and retelling Phoebe's story, continually ponders possible parallels between her own and Phoebe's story. Sal wonders if she treated her mother the way Phoebe treats Mrs. Winterbottom, and she sees herself unwillingly miming Phoebe's inconsiderate treatment of Mrs. Winterbottom when Sal rejects Margaret Cadaver's gift. By observing Phoebe's story, which is comparatively easy for Sal to understand, Sal gains insight into her own story.
Next, stories act as a sort of currency between characters and often indicate the nature of the relationships between characters. Sal willingly shares her story with her grandparents and gladly listens to theirs. On the other hand, she refuses to hear Margaret Cadaver's story or her father's story, and in fact, Sal and Phoebe willfully misinterpret Margaret Cadaver's story, attributing her with grizzly and murderous acts. At this point in the novel, Sal can share only part of her story with Ben. Sharing one's story with someone means sharing oneself with that person and trusting him or her; refusing to share or accept stories serves as a repudiation of that person and/or an attempt to guard oneself. The students in Mr. Birkway's class, who feel such reluctance and trepidation at being asked to give up their journals to him, understand exactly what a risk it can be to share stories with another person.
The novel, in keeping with the tropes of an adventure/accomplishment romance, continues to reflect Sal's internal life through external events and objects. Sal, whose hair long, black hair resembles her mother's, has hidden her mother's cut hair and the postcards she sent during her trip to Lewiston under the floorboards in her bedroom in Kentucky. The hair and postcards, which symbolize not just Sal's mother, but the personal changes that caused her to leave Kentucky, lie not just hidden and buried, but buried in a place far away from Sal. Though Sal has buried them beneath the floorboards in her bedroom and is drawing physically farther and farther away from them as the novel progresses, she is at the same time drawing physically and emotionally closer to what they represent—her mother's decision to leave home and the disaster that followed. In the same way, the singing tree externalizes the numbness and grief Sal felt when she and her father found that her mother was not coming back. In the world of the novel, the natural world and the events of the present not only serve as "exit points" into memories, but also serve as expressions and reflections of emotions characters are experiencing.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Walk Two Moons!