I sighed loudly and raked my hand through my hair. I stared through the window at the still-frozen yard trying hard to shed its white winter coat. My Old Dwarf came over to stand beside me. “Ye be lookin’ a bit down in the mouth, lassie. What be troublin’ ye?”
I shrugged. “The usual. It’s winter.”
“But it be beauteous out there taday, lassie! Why do ye na git yer picture-makin’ box and go fer a hike?”
I turned and gaped at him as if he had just suggested I should murder someone. “Are you crazy? It’s cold out there!”
He scoffed. “The sun be shinin’ and I be seein’ some birdies flittin’ aboot.”
My voice rose to a shriek. “It’s 13 frigid degrees out there, and the blasted birdies are wearing their insulated underwear!”
My Old Dwarf stood there laughing. I shook my head incredulously and headed to my office. Go hiking? In these temperatures? The dwarf is mad, mad I say!
I shivered violently as I sat down at my computer and immediately checked the weather site. Mistake. It told me the 13 degree Fahrenheit temperature outside my Minnesota house actually felt like negative two. The ten day forecast only showed two days when the temperature might climb above the thirties. Typical for the second week of February. My reaction was typical, too. Just like every other year at this time, I could feel myself sinking into a depression, a victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I reached over and turned on my full-spectrum light, hoping it would help me fight these SAD Winter Blues.
I started scrolling through my e-mails. There was nothing of earthshaking importance there, so I decided to check out some friends’ posts on social media. Big mistake. One friend in Alabama had posted photos of a magnolia tree already in bloom in her neighborhood. A Florida friend had photographed area birds already gathering twigs and nesting material. Someone in Texas shared photos of fields of blooming daffodils. And three of my friends from Georgia had posted a profusion of photos of unfrozen lakes and ponds teeming with waterfowl.
I sighed again. Since I have an aversion to any temperature below 65 F, it would be many weeks before I could venture out again, camera in hand, and enjoy nature. I turned off the computer and my full-spectrum light and wandered back upstairs.
In the living room, I went over to the French doors leading to the deck, and scowled as I looked out over the yard. I gave myself a mental shake. This had to be the tenth time I had looked outside today. Did I expect to find that it had suddenly transformed into spring?
My Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One entered the room. The insufferable elf took one look at me by the doors and turned on his heel to leave. His companion placed a restraining hand on the elf’s arm. He nodded to me in greeting. “Mistress Writer.”
I grunted at the two of them and returned my attention to the scene outside. The wind was picking up, and the few birds I could see were hunkering down into the reeds at the back of the yard.
“Not a very nice day out there.” I looked up. My Arrogant One was still on the other side of the room, but my Bounty Hunter was at my elbow.
I scowled at the intrusion. “Nope.”
“I remember how the wind picked up toward the end of that expedition we enjoyed with you last year. If I recall, Cleric and the Gypsy lad combined their skills so you could get photos of some small birds clinging to the cattails swaying in the wind.” (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/a-surprisingly-pleasant-outing/)
I raised my eyebrows at him. “I’m surprised you remember.”
“Well, that was a most enjoyable outing, Mistress Writer.” His smile would do justice to a snake-oil salesman. He turned to the elf. “I do not believe you accompanied us on that outing, did you?”
My Arrogant One drew himself up and clasped the front of his cloak with both hands. “I do not participate in such frivolous undertakings.”
I snorted. “Of course you don’t.”
My Bounty Hunter turned his smile on me again. “Mistress, many of us are suffering discontent from the weather and the confinement. Perhaps we could go to your office and view your collection of photos on your magic box. I could gather the others, if you approve.”
I cocked my head and considered this proposal. “I’m not sure that would help anyone feel better. I was looking at photos some of my friends posted online, photos of other areas of the country that are already enjoying spring-like weather. It just depressed me further.”
My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “Well, I suppose you could just stay here and continue staring at the bleak scenery outside. But is that really making you feel any better?” He quirked an eyebrow at me. “Besides, remembering what you enjoyed, and will again enjoy when the weather improves, is different than viewing with envy that which others are enjoying now.”
I glared at him. I hate people who counter my bad moods with logic. “Fine. We’ll see how much better it makes us all feel. You round up anyone who’s interested, and I’ll meet you downstairs. My office is too small to accommodate more than two or three people comfortably, so I’ll set up the computer in the conference room.”
My Bounty Hunter nodded. As he turned to take his leave, I noticed him and my Arrogant One exchanging sly smiles. I wondered what they could be up to, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort to find out.
A half hour later, my characters and I met in the conference room. Cleric smiled broadly as she took a seat next to me. “This should be quite enjoyable! You took many walks last year, Mistress, and we are all looking forward to seeing some of your photos.”
I noticed that all did not include my Old Dwarf, my Arrogant One, Dragon or Sorceress. The rest of us made ourselves comfortable and I began.
“I don’t think anyone here has seen the photos I took at Purgatory Creek and Staring Lake last year, and they are among my favorites. Let’s start with those.”
I brought up a photo of a blossoming tree.
Cleric was most enthusiastic. “Oh, how lovely! Pink is my favorite color!”
“That is pretty, isn’t it? These photos were taken in the beginning of May, just as the flowers on that tree reached full bloom.” I smiled as I scrolled through the images. “It was also the beginning of the nesting season for many of the birds in this area. Here’s a male Red-winged Blackbird, trying to attract a mate. And here’s a female, ignoring him.”
My Gypsy nodded. “We saw a number of them on our outing with you last year. They are quite amusing to watch. The way the males puff themselves up and squawk, they remind me of the Arrogant One.”
We all shared a good laugh over that one, then I brought up two more images. “The swallows were really active that day. Here’s a pair of Tree Swallows. In the first shot, they’re on top of their nest box, and in the second picture, they’re setting up housekeeping.”
I gave them a chance to view those pictures, then brought up the next one. “This is a pair of Barn Swallows. They nest under the observation deck on the opposite side of the lake from the Tree Swallows.”
My Young Hero turned to me. “You have taken many photos of these two types of birds, have you not?”
I nodded. “They are relatively easy to approach and photograph. I have a few more of each type. Here are the Tree Swallows.”
“And here are some more Barn Swallows.”
My Bounty Hunter joined the conversation. “You said nesting had begun at the time these photos were taken. Were any of the birds tending offspring yet?”
“I believe so.” I scrolled through the photos. “Yup. The Canada Geese had babies on the water already.
My Gypsy gave me a knowing look, and showed off his expertise. “Geese are fiercely protective parents. You need to be careful approaching them.”
“You’re right. This goose was upset by a Mallard that was too close to the goslings.”
“My, he does look fierce!” Cleric stared in awe at the photo.
“Yes, he does. Of course, the Mallard wasn’t overly impressed.”
My Foreman asked, “Were there creatures other than birds there that day?”
“Only a few turtles.”
“Mostly, there were birds that day.”
“Can we see some more photos of the birds?” Cleric scooted closer.
“Sure.” I continued scrolling through the images. “Here’s a Killdeer.”
“And here’s a Great Blue Heron.”
“This one’s a Pied-billed Grebe.”
“Of course, I got the ubiquitous Song Sparrow.”
“Here’s a Black-capped Chickadee.”
“And this one’s a female Hooded Merganser.”
“I got several good shots of a Yellow-rumped Warbler.”
“And this one is an Eastern Phoebe.”
When we finished looking at the photos from that day, everyone seemed unwilling to stop. Cleric said, “You go hiking so often, you must have other photos you can show us.”
My Old Dwarf chose that moment to interrupt, popping into the room to summon us. “Ye best be waitin’ fer another day fer thet. Right now, dinner be almost ready.”
My disappointed characters thanked me profusely for the afternoon’s entertainment, and slowly filed out of the room. As he passed me, my Bounty Hunter flashed his oily smile at me.
My Old Dwarf helped me carry my computer equipment back to my office. “Ye seem ta be feelin’ a bit brighter, lassie!”
“I hate to admit it, but my Bounty Hunter actually had a good idea. I really enjoyed sharing those photos. I don’t feel as glum as I did earlier.”
As we headed upstairs for dinner, we heard a commotion. When we reached the top of the steps, we found Dragon standing with eyes narrowed, watching something in the kitchen. Beside her, Sorceress stood gaping. She saw me and pointed to the kitchen. My jaw almost hit the floor. There, by the counter, stood my husband, Miles, ready to dish up some of his savory stew. Over by the stove stood the Innkeeper, stirring an identical pot of stew. The two figures seemed oblivious to each other.
“Did I ever tell you that the king himself came to my inn just for this stew?” Miles and the Innkeeper intoned in unison.
Come back next week, as we investigate the appearance of the Innkeeper. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.