An unspectacular, off-beat story about the summer Eric spends with 82-year-old Mr. Beck, who teaches him to ""see"" the old man's garden. The lesson involves dividing the garden into 79 equal squares, then spending a silent, solitary hour sitting in each one. On his own Eric also starts checking nature books out of the library so he can (for example) identify the insects he sees in the garden and understand the effects of changing weather on its creatures. The larger lessons that Eric ""learns"" this way are properly vague and underemphasized; more important to him is his friendship with the old man, who (Erie gradually finds out) has spent 40 years in prison. . . for murder. . .having killed his unfaithful wife. . . and has now been released to die. When the rest of the town finds out too, things get nasty; and Eric's problem is complicated by being on probation (for smashing windows in his junior high school) and forbidden to associate with the old ""jailbird""--and by the revenge attack of his marginally bad companions, who resent the time he spends with the old man. It takes some stretch of credulity to accept Eric's so-willing acceptance of the old man's odd direction; but it's worth the effort for kids like Eric who'll respond to being taken just a bit out of the way.