I walked into the living room, intending to catch up on some reading. I had downloaded Jean Rabe’s new book onto my laptop and was planning to stretch out in the recliner for a few hours and immerse myself in her latest mystery, The Bone Shroud.
On the far side of the room, Dragon was huddled by her illusory fireplace, a brooding expression on her reptilian face.
I tilted my head and raised an eyebrow at her. “A penny for your thoughts.”
Dragon looked up at me, and the corners of her mouth twitched for the briefest of moments. “Forsooth, I am not certain you would receive any value for your coin.”
“Oh?” I wasn’t sure if I should press for details. After Dragon remained silent for a few minutes, I took my seat by the French doors leading to the deck. “You seem troubled, my friend. You know if you want to talk about anything . . .”
“Perhaps . . . at some time in the future.” Smoke bubbles dribbled out of Dragon’s nose. “Right now, I must attempt to make sense of things on my own.”
“What sort of things?”
Dragon sat up, tilted her head, and gestured with her clawed hand. “You know the snow devils accused me of capturing them in a magical conduit that I and another of my kind had created, and through which we were traveling. Their words awakened in me a jumble of memories.” Dragon turned her head away, staring off into space. “I need time to sort through the vague, fragmented recollections and murky images swirling through my mind like smoke in the wind.”
Dragon turned back to face me. “But, in time, I am sure we will have need of a discussion of this matter. Meanwhile . . .” The big beast glared at the scene outside the window. “Will winter never end this year?” She shivered violently and huddled closer to the heat of her illusory fireplace.
Someone else spoke up. I was so startled, I almost dropped my laptop. Cleric had been so quiet, I had walked right past her and not even noticed her sitting on the sofa.
“It had been such a pleasant day when we took Mystery . . . I mean Peaches . . . back to her owner.” Cleric heaved an enormous sigh. “Even with the snow still deep in some spots along the road, the day was warm, the sun was shining, and the birds were singing their spring songs. Today . . .” She wrinkled her nose as she gestured at the snow and sleet falling softly onto the deck. “Today, it is miserable once again.”
“That’s the capricious nature of the weather in Minnesnowta in spring.” I looked out the window. “The birds and squirrels don’t seem bothered by it, though.”
Cleric clasped her hands and gave me a hopeful look. “That is a good sign, is it not, Mistress? Perhaps they know this abominable weather will not last long.”
“Perhaps.” I smiled.
“We should follow the example of the wild creatures.” Cleric walked over and studied the scene outside. “We should not be moping about.”
“Speak for yourself.” Dragon growled softly, and smoke drifted from her snout. “I am most happy to mope.”
I chuckled. “Well, I, for one, wasn’t planning on moping. I was planning on reading.” I gestured to my laptop.
“Would you not rather take pictures of the birds and creatures today, Mistress?” Seeing the look of alarm on my face, Cleric was quick to reassure me. “You would not have to go outside. You could stay right here where it is warm and dry and take the pictures through the windows. I daresay I could coax the little animals close enough for you.” She looked at me with pleading eyes.
I considered Cleric’s request. I knew how much she was missing the little horse we had dubbed Mystery. She had just made a hard-won connection with the horse right before having to return Mystery to her owner. I capitulated, thinking it might help distract Cleric from thoughts of the horse. “Very well. I will get my camera. You do what you do best and convince the critters to pose for me.”
By the time I had returned with my camera, Cleric was coaxing some birds onto the deck. I got a great shot of one of the birds on the deck railing, scattering the snow.
“That is a Dark-eyed Junco, is it not, Mistress?”
I nodded. “They’re winter residents here. If they’re still here, so is winter.”
Cleric squinted. “What does he have around his beak?”
I looked. “I think he has some hulls from the safflower seeds he was eating stuck to his beak.”
“Look, Mistress, he has turned around and he is looking at us. I think he wants you to take another picture.”
The delight in Cleric’s voice was contagious, and I found myself smiling broadly as I took several more pictures of the little bird as it dropped down to eat some of the seed from the “birdie buffet” on the deck.
“Here comes a Black-capped Chickadee.” Cleric furrowed her brow. “I seem to remember seeing them here in summer as well.”
“Yup. They’re year-round residents in Minnesota. They’re rather friendly little birds. They don’t seem bothered by people taking their picture.” This one posed for several photos on the railing before proceeding to the buffet.
“And here comes one of my favorite year-round residents – a White-breasted Nuthatch.” Cleric was smiling and pointing again.
I quickly focused my camera and got a great close-up of the nuthatch on the railing.
“Bleh!” Dragon seemed unimpressed.
“You do not like the birds?” Cleric sounded shocked.
Dragon snorted. “Black and white birds? Pfft. They are all just like this day – dreary. Can you not find some birds with color?”
Cleric bristled. “They most certainly are not dreary! They are handsome little birds, and quite elegant.”
Dragon rolled her eyes.
Cleric sighed. “Very well, if you must have colorful birds, I will see what I can find.”
A moment later, Cleric had beckoned a Blue Jay to pose on the railing. “Do you like that one better?”
“It certainly has more color.” Dragon shrank to the size of a housecat and perched on the back of the couch to look out the window, promptly scaring off the Blue Jay before I could get more than a single photo. “Are there any more?”
Cleric scanned the yard. “I see a male Northern Cardinal. Let me see if I can coax him nearer.”
A few seconds later, the bird was posing on the railing, perching in the spot the Blue Jay had just vacated.
“Now, that is a beauty!” Dragon nodded appreciatively.
“There is his mate, in that tree.”
Dragon and I both looked where Cleric pointed. The female cardinal, a brown bird tinged with subdued shades of red, huddled on a bare branch.
“Not as brilliant as her mate, she is nonetheless possessed of a delicate beauty all her own.” Cleric tried to coax the female cardinal closer, but to no avail.
“She looks cold.” The heat-loving beast sounded sympathetic to the plight of the shivering bird. Dragon craned her neck and continued to stare at the tree. “What is that bird on the left side of the tree trunk?”
Cleric took a look at the bird. “That is a male Red-bellied Woodpecker.”
“Red-bellied? Do you not mean red-headed?” Dragon watched the bird drilling into the tree.
Cleric giggled. “That’s what I said to the Gypsy lad when he first showed me this bird. But he told me that it does have a faint red splotch on its belly which you can see when the bird’s feathers are not so puffed up.”
I quickly focused on the bird Dragon had seen and clicked the shutter.
“Hmmm. You seem to have learned a great deal about birds from the Gypsy lad and Mistress Writer. What is this one that has just landed in the snow on the deck?”
Cleric’s face glowed at Dragon’s compliment, and she quickly identified the bird in question. “That is a male House Finch. His song is as beautiful as his appearance, a long, jumbled warble that can be heard year-round, not just during the mating season. And the bird that just landed on the railing is an American Tree Sparrow. See the bi-colored bill and the rusty line through its eye?”
I took a few quick photos before the birds scooted to the far end of the deck. I looked at the other end of the deck, and saw a gray squirrel scrambling up the steps. The furry critter grabbed a hazelnut and climbed onto the railing to eat, eyeing us brazenly.
“The cold and snow certainly do not seem to be bothering him.” Cleric waved at the little creature.
I laughed. “If I had a nice, thick fur coat like that, and a warm tail to wrap up in, I doubt I would mind the cold and the snow, either!” I laughed as I snapped two photos of the little furball.
Suddenly, the birds scattered and the squirrel dropped his hazelnut and dashed from the deck.
Dragon blinked. “What happened?”
“I think that happened.” I pointed at a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the tree. He was eyeing the birdie buffet to see if he could grab a quick lunch.
“Oh, my goodness. I do believe he brought some company!” Cleric pointed to some other birds in a tree at the far end of the yard.
“What are they?” Dragon stretched up to see the newcomers.
“Well, two of them are Bald Eagles. I do not recognize the third one.” Cleric turned to me. “Mistress, can you see what it is from here?”
“Let me zoom in on it with my camera.” I took a shot, then looked at it on the camera’s display screen. “It appears to be a juvenile Bald Eagle.”
Dragon frowned. “It does not have as much white on its head as the other two.”
I nodded. “Bald Eagles do not get their full color – the white head and tail – until they are about five years of age.”
“I see.” Cleric looked around the yard, but the eagles and hawk were the only animals remaining. “Well, I guess the photo session is over.” She sighed wistfully.
“I guess so.” I put the lens cap back on my camera and put the camera down. “It was a lot of fun while it lasted, though. I’m glad you suggested it.” I picked up my laptop. “Now, though, I’m going to read that book.”
Cleric smiled. “I will leave you to it, then. I really should go find Sorceress. We need to work on distilling some potions today.”
Dragon yawned. “And I will go back to moping.” She winked at me as she once again curled up by her illusory fireplace.
I settled into the recliner and started reading: The Bone Shroud by Jean Rabe . . .
It’s nice to enjoy a quiet, uneventful day occasionally. Around here, they are few and far between. We hope you will continue to visit each week and see what my characters are up to. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.