After finishing his own chores each day, ten-year-old Billy travels the two miles to Eli's place, where they spend time together, talking and laughing, while Billy helps the elderly man tend to his garden, work in his barn, or mend fences out in a cow pasture. There is no person Billy admires more than THE white-haired Eli, who spends countless hours not only teaching Billy farming skills, but also steering him toward a meaningful manhood: "Simply choose to be what you have dreamed you will be, and you will create that life … love yourself for who you are."
On one of his daily visits to Eli's farm, his aged friend invites Billy to explore the forest beyond the bog. The youth eagerly trails along. Eli teaches the impressionable youth about deer, snakes, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and a host of animals that live in the forest and in its woodland pond. But the elderly gentleman imbues the youth with more than factual information. More importantly, Eli teaches Billy a respect for all living creatures:
"These animals, trees and even the tiniest of insects are part of us all … in a sense you can say we are all one being."
Eli introduces Billy to Martha, the oldest tree in the forest. He explains how she drops her seeds each autumn to start other saplings growing the following spring. In fact, he says "… many of her offspring have grown into this wonderful forest."
But Billy is both confused and surprised when Eli begins talking aloud to the forest creatures like the huge buck, Trevor, and particularly the ancient tree, Martha. He assumes Eli is merely talking as a kind friend would talk to a loving, adoring pet. Yet the old man insists the creatures of the forest not only hear him, but answer him:
"If you remember to listen closely from within and from your heart, you will then understand how to hear the beings of this special place."
As The Journey Home develops, after many shared forest explorations, Billy and the reader become astounded to realize that Eli's claim is true. He does communicate with nature. What's more, the elderly man's ability slowly passes on to Billy, who now knows the names and unique natural habitat of each creature.