Green Thumb Society
Green Thumb Society
Written by Madeline Webber
It wasn’t unusual for Toby to wander into the out-of-bounds area of the school yard. In fact, teachers had taken to ignoring his adventurous efforts, turning their backs as he wandered away from the swing set and towards the overgrown gardens. With the novel he was currently reading tucked under his arm, Toby pulls a juice box from his pocket, which he had just stolen from one of the other kid’s lunchboxes. Puncturing the plastic box with the attached plastic straw with difficulty, Toby passes the tree with his shoelace tied around the trunk, confirming that he is going in the right direction.
The leaves and branches crunch underfoot as he pushes deeper into the overgrown area, feeling the relief of the playground noise disappearing into the background. Satisfied that he had drunk all of the juice from his popper, Toby throws the crushed container into the long grass beside him where it lands amongst the other rubbish he had mindlessly disposed on previous days. Ahead of him, a rainbow lorikeet stands, pecking the undergrowth for food. “Shoo!” The bird took flight immediately, shrieking as it flew away into the protection of the higher trees. Pleased with himself, Toby smirks, feeling once again happy in his solitude. Along the barely visible path, Toby passes a line of small trees with bright pink ribbon tied to their thin trunks. “Weird” Toby admits to himself. He could have sworn that he had never seen those before, the ribbon barely bleached from the sun.
Passing the fallen tree, Toby knew he was in the place he was looking for. Jumping over the tree in one smooth motion, Toby spots the car tyre. Plopping himself down into the tyre, Toby released a sigh, letting the rubber of the tyre mark black dirt across his white school shirt. Pulling out his novel, he felt relieved to have this space to himself. The silence is what Toby liked the most. This was his own habitat in the zoo that was his new school. Starting his new school was hard for Toby; the other students could be nasty, pointing at his hand. Toby’s mother calls it his ‘special hand’ but the other kids had far worse names for the way all his fingers were fused together on his left hand. Here in his hiding place, he wasn’t distracted by the whispers and stares from other students, didn’t have to pretend to not notice when a child-sized hand was raised to point at him across the classroom.
Stretching back into the tyre, Toby stares at the sky and eucalyptus treetops, mindlessly grabbing a handful of dry grass with his good hand and tearing the roots from the ground. The morning class – which, predictably, he had arrived late to – seems like a waste of his time. His geography teacher, Mr H, had scowled disappointingly at Toby as he fell into his seat, disturbing the class viewing of an environmental documentary. Mr H watched the film intensely, the creases between his eyebrows deepening when he seemingly agreed with the narrator’s monotone voice. Toby couldn’t care less about the documentary, instead reading his novel in the dimly lit classroom. As the bell rang out, Mr H flicked the lights on. “Does anyone have any questions about what we just watched or what we learned?” to which a student had responded with the question of whether they could leave for lunch.
The abrupt sound of digging tore Toby from his thoughts. Sitting up and looking around, he couldn’t locate the source of the noise, which pauses momentarily only to begin again. There was no sign of anyone there with him, his surroundings turning into a green blur as he twists his body around to scan the shrub. “Hello?” his unbroken voice calls out, but the only response comes from the shrieking rainbow lorikeet perched high above. The digging noise grows louder and Toby recognises children’s laughter, along with the faint crunch of leaves and brush of twigs. Grabbing his book, Toby turns to leave, nervous a classmate has discovered his hiding spot, but falls back to the ground when he runs straight into a person standing behind him.
“You’re the new boy.” Toby looks up to see a girl in her matching school uniform, hand on a bucket full of dirt. “What’cha doing out here?” Toby stares at her, feeling hot with embarrassment. A group of other students each holding buckets, some with shovels, appear from the shrub.
“Look it’s a lobster-claw!” says one of the children, pinching their fingers like a claw.
“Ew, what’s wrong with your hand,” comments another. They all begin to laugh, miming hands to each other. From behind a thick tree trunk appears Mr H, holding pots with thin saplings in them, each tied with bright pink ribbon.
“Toby? Are you here for the meeting?” asks Mr H.
“M – meeting?” Toby mumbles.
“For the Green Thumb Society. Here, you can carry this bucket, we’re about to finish up the trees for today, but your welcome to come back to the clubhouse if you want.” In a daze, Toby accepts the bucket pushed into his good hand and watches as the group of classmates wander over to a clearing in the shrub. “Remember in class today, we learned about ecosystems from the documentary?” Toby looks down at the ground, embarrassed that he can’t answer the question. “The Green Thumb Society come out every lunch break and plant trees. See,” Mr H points behind him, a line of four saplings sticking out of the overturned earth with bright pink ribbons tied onto each of the stalks. “We’re trying to help the ecosystem of our school.”
“Don’t we have gardeners for that?” Toby instantly wishes he could retract his question, but Mr H either doesn’t notice or care.
“No, silly,” says one of the children, giggling with their friends at their comment.
“The Green Thumb Society has one rule: to make the world a better place. And everyone can help in their own way. We do heaps of different things for the environment like…”
“Planting trees!” interjects a boy, fixing his bucket hat covered in dirt.
“Yes, planting trees. Our environment is very delicate, Toby, and we have to look after it. Did you want to help us out? We’ve got three more to do for today.”
“I don’t think I can really dig,” says Toby, motioning to his hand.
“Don’t make me his bucket buddy, Mr H. His hands are gross,” says the bucket hat boy from before.
“He can go with me,” says the girl he first ran into. “I’m Nancy, nice to meet you.” Reaching out her arm, she grabs Toby’s special hand and shakes it. Mr H smiles and hands Toby a bucket.
“So what we need to do first off is…”
– – –
The new tree saplings sit proudly in a row, flaunting the bright pink ribbons. Toby admires his work, a smile growing on his dirt-covered cheeks.
“Pretty cool, huh. I like watching how fast they grow. Maybe one day they’ll be even taller than us!” Nancy says, turning to follow Mr H as he leads the group away from the clearing in the shrub.
“Does the Green Thumb Society do anything else other than plant trees, Mr H?” Toby enquires, dragging a shovel through the dirt.
“Lots of things – pick the shovel up, Toby – see up there,” Mr H points his dirt-covered finger towards the tree line where a wooden bird box sits. “We make those with recycled timber and leave it up there for the birds to have their nests. Because the school cut down trees for the new sports centre, we’ve had to make extras for all the birds and other animals without homes.” A rainbow lorikeet and chicks stick their heads out of the hole and turn their heads side to side as if to consider them. A pang of guilt hits Toby about scaring the bird off before. “We also take all the bottles from tuckshop to a recycling place, and the money from that goes back into trees and equipment.” The small group walks up to a green wrought-iron shed, a green hand-painted onto the side with childish handwriting Green Thumb Society. Parallel to the shed lies small garden beds overflowing with vegetables and flowers, and Toby can hear the clucking of chickens and buzz of bees nearby.
“Why do you do all this. Just for the environment?” Mr H stops and looks around, pleased with his little clubs’ efforts.
“Do you like science, Toby? Do you know the law of science that says everything has an equal and opposite reaction? It’s the same with our environment.” Mr H approaches a planter box with flowers, delicate not to disturb the bees working on the bush. “Because people aren’t treating our world right, even here on our school grounds, these little bees are struggling to survive. So, our club changes parts of our lifestyle to help them out. We are making sustainable changes.”
“You know what that means?”.
“Kinda,” Toby lies.
“Well, everything has a flow-on effect. Our actions, big or small, have an impact on the environment. And by being sustainable, we can make positive changes. Like the bees over there. Because our world is warming up from bad gases, some bees are struggling to keep buzzing. So here, we help them out a little bit,” Mr H explains, gesturing towards the beehive painted bumblebee yellow.
“But I don’t think I can be part of the club, Mr H. I can’t do a lot with my hand.”
“Toby, everyone can make a difference. It doesn’t matter who you are or how you look, the environment will benefit from helpers like you.” The sound of the end of lunch bell snaps Toby back to reality. “Okay Green Thumbs, tomorrow I want us to meet at my classroom for us to go through the recycling bins and double-check everything is in the right bin. Alright, off to class.” “I hope you come to the club meeting tomorrow,” says Nancy, squeezing Toby’s special hand before running off into the shrub. Toby walks his path back to class, passing the tyre where he was lazing only fifteen minutes ago, thinking of all the things he could do to make his change. Toby is about to walk out of the shrub when he spots the pile of rubbish he had left, the juice box shining in the midday light.
“Start small,” Toby says as he bends down to pick up the rubbish carrying it with him as he walks out and into the playground.