Several months later, spring arrives in the Ozarks, and Billy and his family prepare to leave for town. Mama and Papa are elated about the move. On the day they’re to set out, Billy helps his parents pack up their wagon and then he asks if he can have a few minutes to himself to say goodbye to the dogs. Mama and Papa urge him to go to their graves. As Billy walks up the hillside, he sees something amazing: a giant and beautiful red fern has sprung up between the graves and it has grown over two feet tall. Billy knows that there is an “old Indian legend” about how the red fern grows on the graves of those who have died in order to sanctify the land around them. Only an angel, legend has it, can plant the red fern’s seeds.
As Billy spies the red fern—the product of an intermingling of native legend and Christian imagination—he realizes that both God and the majesty of the natural world have blessed his dogs’ memories. Billy has been in pain over his dogs’ deaths for months—but now, the red fern shows him that it is okay to move on while keeping his memories of his dogs alive with him wherever he goes.
Billy calls for his parents and his sisters, and they all approach the hillside together. Mama in particular is in awe of the red fern, and Papa concedes that “perhaps there is something to the legend.” Papa suggests that the fern is “God’s way of helping Billy understand why his dogs died.” Billy says he does understand—he doesn’t hurt anymore. As Billy looks at the ferns, he marvels at the beautiful mountains all around. He bids his dogs goodbye and he leads his family back to their wagon. Together, they set off for town. As Billy looks back over his shoulder at the home he grew up in, he realizes how “sad and lonely” the house looks.
Billy finds himself comforted by the idea that God has, after all, played a role in not just his dogs’ lives, but in their deaths as well. The red fern does indeed symbolize rebirth and the ongoing circle of life. Though Billy has had to witness his dogs die violent and terrible deaths, the fern reminds him that there are new things on the horizon—and that Dan and Ann did not die in vain.
The older Billy, looking back on his tale, states that he has never been back to the Ozarks—he only has “dreams and memories” of the place he grew up. He hopes that one day, “if God is willing,” he will be able to return to the hills of his boyhood days. He imagines returning to the hillside where Dan and Ann are buried and looking again upon the glorious red fern, whose legend he still believes to this very day.
The legend of the red fern continues to fill the older Billy with hope and reassurance. He believes that his dogs came into his life for a reason—and he knows that under the protection of the red fern’s blessing, the lessons they taught him and the ways in which they shaped his life will remain sacred and alive forever, even though Dan and Ann themselves have passed on.